Brandon Crawford amassed quite a stack of nicknames during his time at Ball State.
"Crawdaddy" was a popular one among teammates. "Crawfather," too. And "Uncle."
"Or just, 'Hey, Old Man," Crawford said.
The 6-3, 275-pound defensive end laughs at the hundreds of monikers given to him by his "little brothers." For years, he was a man among these boys. In some cases, quite literally.
Now he's hoping to move on to the next level and unseat 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke as the oldest player ever selected in the NFL draft. Weinke was 28 when the Carolina Panthers selected him in the fourth round in 2001.
Crawford is 33. And that's no typo. He's older than five of Ball State's assistant coaches.
"But age is just a number," said Crawford, who adds a 34th number on Aug. 16. "If you take the age factor out of it and just look at the abilities and character that I have, I think that's the secret with me."
Paths to the NFL are unlimited. Crawford's journey will be one of the more interesting to watch as it begins to unfold with Thursday's pro day workout at Ball State.
Crawford wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last week. That's an indication he won't be drafted. But even if he's not, he's virtually certain to be signed as a rookie free agent.
"I think I'll be drafted because if I thought any less of myself, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Crawford, who has spent the past five weeks training for his pro day at St. Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis. "If I'm not, so be it. I always push myself to go higher, believe higher."
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., Crawford had opportunities to play football coming out of South High. He chose to work odd jobs that included grocery store cashier and painter's assistant.
"Then my brother helped get me a job at a factory where they made Hummers and Jeeps," Crawford said. "I worked the assembly line."
It was a good job. Crawford was miserable. Then something happened that Crawford took as a sign.
"I worked right next to a paint booth in the factory," he said. "One day, my nose started bleeding. It was smelling those fumes all day. I told my brother this wasn't for me. For those who had to do it and that was their situation, more power to them."
Crawford joined the U.S. Marine Corps and spent four years stationed in Havelock, N.C. He was honorably discharged in 2003.
Three years later, Crawford decided to scratch his football itch once and for all. Using money from his military stint, Crawford enrolled at Ball State. He was 29 when he met with then-Ball State head coach and defensive line coach Brady Hoke.
"I remember when he walked through the door, he was a good-looking guy who had taken care of his body," said Hoke, now entering his second season as head coach at San Diego State. "But we didn't even know if the guy could get down in a proper stance, let alone play Division I football."
It wasn't pretty at first. But Crawford's skills and Marine Corps training kicked in.
"Brandon was extremely intelligent and a hard worker with a big motor," Hoke said. "He was such a great character guy and a mentor to those young kids. He just kept getting better and better."
Crawford started his final 39 games at Ball State and had 11 1/2 tackles for loss as a senior. NFLDraftScout.com ranks him as the 113th-best defensive end available in next month's draft.
In other words, he's a long shot. But Crawford is OK with that because he loves unlikely success stories. His all-time favorite came in 1994 when a 45-year-old George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight boxing title. Moorer was 26 when Big George lowered the boom in the 10th round.
"A lot of people get that age number in their mind and they put on their blinders," Crawford said. "They say, 'Oh my God, he's old. He can't do this.' My thing was always looking at people who defied the odds and pushed past what the norm was and what society says they can't do."