CLEMSON — The less-famous starting defensive end for Clemson likes it that way.
While Vic Beasley gobbles up the headlines with his nation-leading sack total and bursts into defensive player of the year conversations, Corey Crawford goes about his business in relative anonymity.
He’s a quiet fellow, internalizing his emotions. Few know much about Crawford’s daily determination to carry on from a burdening loss at the end of his freshman season.
Crawford’s sister was surprised he opened up to an extent. His high school coach preferred not to say much about it, out of respect for Crawford. His Tigers’ teammates are aware what happened, though they’ll never know the depth of Crawford’s pain.
“There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about her,” Crawford said. “Every now and again, I catch myself crying, because it hasn’t really set yet that she’s gone.”
Crawford’s mother was just 43 years old on Feb. 2, 2012, when she succumbed to Stage 3 breast cancer, survived by four children.
“He doesn’t always say a whole lot, but he’s very focused, a great leader on and off the field,” said Kathleen Swinney, the wife of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and a breast cancer survivor. “He just has my heart. He’s a very sweet boy, and I can relate to what his family’s going through.
“She was such a sweet spirit, and was so proud of Corey.”
Alesia Davis was the quintessential hard-working single mom who did all things for her family. A claims auditor for BlueCross BlueShield in Columbus, Ga., she didn’t let her job get in the way of her twice-daily routine.
Before her kids went to school, a hearty, healthy breakfast was on the table. When they got home, dinner was ready, and these were feasts only a woman whose dream it was to open a small catering business could cook up.
“Every now and again we ate fast food, but every night, she’s gonna cook something big,” Crawford said. His favorite meal was boneless neck bones, with rice and cabbage.
“When my teammates didn’t have anything to eat, she’d always cooked enough. She used to say, you never know who’s hungry, so my teammates would come over and get a plate. That’s how she impacted people. As soon as one of my teammates would meet her, they’d click because of how genuine she was, so accepting of people.”
Alesia always taught her children nothing was more important than family and faith, so it wasn’t enough for them simply to sit in church. Everybody learned to sing in the choir — except Corey, who found out he couldn’t carry a tune, so he started playing the drums at age 6.
He still does, playing in the praise band at Church FreeWay in Clemson run by the team’s director of player personnel Jeff Davis. All thanks to his mom.
“She was the life of the party,” said Tionna (Crawford) Harris, Corey’s 23-year-old sister and Alesia’s oldest child. “Whenever you’re around her, she lifts your spirits, and has very contagious laughter.”
Crawford’s recollection of his mother was one that brings a smile to his face.
“Beautiful, inside and out. Don’t play no games,” Crawford said. “She really disciplined us when it time, but there was time for loving. She’s just an amazing woman.”
The strongest woman Tionna Harris has ever known would surely knock out cancer.
Diagnosed in the fall of 2009, Alesia Davis stubbornly continued life as normally as possible, cooking away and going to Corey’s games his senior year at Carver (Ga.) High School.
When Crawford moved on to Hargrave Military Academy for one year, and then to Clemson, there was Alesia. Sure, there were days when Death Valley would be rocking, rooting on the eventual ACC champion Tigers, and Alesia’s bones would ache and head would throb.
“But she just radiated,” Kathleen Swinney said. “She was so proud to come, and be there and see her son play. It just warmed my heart to see her so happy that he was here at Clemson. Moms want to know that their children are doing OK.”
When the Tigers made the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, 2012, Alesia made the trip to Miami. Even South Beach gets chilly in the thick of winter, and she made frequent trips to the concourse away from her seat to collect herself. But she was there.
“She tried to make it for us being like nothing was wrong. It kind of eased us,” Tionna said. “We weren’t worrying as much, until she went into the hospital and then we felt out of control because there wasn’t anything we could do to help her get better.”
Two and a half years after first waging war on breast cancer (she was in remission for a year before it returned), and less than a month after watching her son wear football pads for the final time, Alesia Davis passed away. It took Crawford some time to cope with his new normal.
His first words to his sister after hearing the news together, as Tionna recalled?
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. She was the person I was doing all of this for.”
Eventually, Crawford made peace that his mom was in a better place.
And he found a new way to look at the situation.
“My mom was his motivator, and he just wanted to make her proud. But she was already so proud of her,” Tionna said.
“Playing football, playing the drums at church, they’ve become an outlet for him. He allowed himself time to grieve, and he went on and continued to do the best he could because he knew my mom would want him to go on.”
Like Crawford said, he thinks about his mom every day. She’s been on his mind constantly this week as Clemson celebrates Breast Cancer Awareness, selling pink Tiger Paw pins to raise funds toward research and prevention via the Swinneys’ All In Foundation.
“Coach Swinney told me God doesn’t make any mistakes,” Crawford said. “I just have to keep going, and keep making her proud. She’s still here, not here physically, but spiritually she’s still here.”
Crawford has been named a team captain for the third-ranked Tigers’ showdown against No. 5 Florida State. He’s been a reliable bookend to Beasley, with 24 tackles (17 solo) and a team-high five pass breakups with his first career interception against Georgia, his home-state team.
“He’s a very mature young man,” Dabo Swinney said. “I’m really proud of Corey Crawford and the young man that he is and the type of leadership that he’s providing.”
Alesia Davis won’t be in the stands Saturday. But she’s a different kind of 12th man, her memory never fleeing No. 93.
“This game is going to be real emotional for me, real personal,” Crawford said. “She was my No. 1 fan, and I still believe she is.”