Very often when we talk about sports we use terms like "life or death," "this game is a war" or "there is no tomorrow" to describe games. Yes games. All too often we lose sight of the fact that no matter how important they may be, they are just that - games.
There is an endless list of everyday adversities that all of us may face on any day from losing loved ones to financial problems. These are the real, important things in life.
Sometimes real world issues intersect with the sporting world and you have a story like the Patriots third-round draft pick Shawn Crable's, a man who has overcome a sad and difficult childhood to become a college graduate and now an NFL player.
Like most feel-good stories, Crable may not have been able to do it by himself, and luckily for him he found a guardian angel when he was 11 years old in Ella Kirkland. She and her family took Crable in after he was bounced around in foster care from the age of 5.
"There was a situation with my mom and that's how I ended up in foster care and I moved to a couple of different homes," said Crable, who never lived with his father.
Though he may not have realized it at the time, the day Kirkland entered his life everything for him changed for the better. Today he does understand the love, structure and discipline that Kirkland injected into his life and the impact it has had on who he has become.
"She means the world to me. She is an angel and she got me on track," he said. "I was a little rough around the edges before I got with her and she took the time, nurtured me and got me on track to where I thought I could do something in college. She's the one who got me into sports and I owe her a lot."
The road to the NFL has not always been a smooth one for Crable. Early in his career at Michigan, Crable was called into head coach Lloyd Carr's office where Carr slid transfer papers to Crable because he felt the linebacker was an underachiever and wanted to see what kind of reaction he would get from the linebacker. They talked and it eventually worked out as the rangy Crable went on to become an All-American and All-Big 10.
Ron English, Crable's defensive coordinator at Michigan, said the linebacker always had the talent but he really came on his last two years after playing behind his friend and current Patriot Pierre Woods.
According to English, Crable is not only a great athlete but also a Patriots-type of player, and he thinks New England is a great fit for him. "He will be a guy that will radically improve," English said. "There is no question Shawn has a big football I.Q., he played a hybrid position for us and his responsibilities included run stopping, pass rush and pass coverage."
Both English and Bill Belichick believe that Crable is more of a linebacker than a defensive end, though the possibility exists he could do both. "He has a tall thin frame, but he's got exceptional strength," Belichick said. "He plays a lot stronger than he looks. He sits kind of like a basketball player, but he has good upper body strength and he plays with good leverage."
With the Patriots desire to get younger and quicker on defense, Crable will certainly fit the bill. Like the linebackers in front of him, he has a knack for making big plays. Over his last two seasons at Michigan, Crable totaled 39 tackles for loss and was a constant presence in opposing backfields.
According to English, his protégé shouldn't have too hard a time picking up the Pats difficult defensive system. Even though the Wolverines played a lot of 4-3 in Ann Arbor, most of the time it was really a three-man front with Crable as a stand up outside linebacker.
"We had former Patriots coach Steve Szabo on our staff so he was a bridge to their system and we ran a lot of stuff similar to what Shawn will see in New England," English said "I'm sure he'll have some different techniques to learn, but he adjusts well and learns quickly."
Crable doesn't seem concerned about the transition to a 3-4, playing standing up or with a hand on the ground. "I've been learning both since high school, so I have never focused on just one of them," he said.
The bottom line is the Patriots like players with position flexibility and Crable will likely be asked to play different spots, but mostly the Patriots like good players and Crable's former coach believes they have found one.
"I know they have had a lot of good outside linebackers but I think Shawn will be another good one for them as well," English said.