Crawford driving force of Hornets’ offensive line

Delaware State News/Marc Clery DSU’ coach Rod Milstead said Kaiden Crawford has NFL-type qualities with his size, his speed and athleticism. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Kaiden Crawford was never going to be a football player.

Crawford was too small and his father didn’t want him playing against bigger athletes.

A growth spurt during Crawford’s sophomore year of high school changed all that.

“I was a little chubby kid and then in 10th grade I shot up to 6-3 out of nowhere,” Crawford said. “Then it was like, OK, let’s try football.”

Crawford, now listed at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds on Delaware State’s football roster, laughs as he remembers trying to choose his position when he first went out for the team at Simon Gratz High in Philadelphia.

“I wanted to be a wide receiver at first believe it or not,” Crawford said. “Then they were like no come on over here with the line.”

Delaware State, who has its home opener Saturday at 4 p.m. against Lincoln, Pa., is certainly glad that growth spurt happened.

Despite playing one year of high school football, Crawford is a force on the offensive line for the Hornets. He was named to the Preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team in August.

He’s also developed himself a nickname.

The rest of the offensive line calls Crawford, who wears No. 66, “Highway 66.”

“Where he goes, we go,” said DSU coach Rod Milstead. “His teammates rely on him so much that they’ve nicknamed him ‘Highway 66’ because of his presence.”

Crawford went through several nicknames before the team decided on Highway 66.

First it was the obvious “Big Kai” and the almost as obvious “Big Dread” due to Crawford’s dreadlocks. But one day during one-on-one workouts between the offensive and defensive lines, defensive coordinator Mark James welcomed Crawford to the field as Highway 66.

Crawford has his own idea what the nickname means.

“I think of you’re moving cars like on Route 66,” he said. “They called me that one day and it stuck.”

The funny thing is, Crawford always thought of himself as a basketball player before he joined the football team in high school.

As luck would have it, Crawford lived down the street from Simon Gratz head coach Erik Zipay. After Crawford’s growth spurt, Zipay kept stopping by the house to see if Crawford would be interested in football.

“He would knock on my door every day until I came out,” Crawford said.

And because Crawford’s football career started later than everyone else’s in high school, his recruiting was way behind. He had interest from some MEAC schools and some other FCS teams but Delaware State was his only offer.

It came just days before National Signing Day from former coach Kenny Carter.

“They were the only school that gave me a chance,” Crawford said.

Milstead then took the job prior to the 2018 season and was excited to have Crawford to build the offensive line around.

As a former All-American offensive lineman at Delaware State himself who went on to play in the NFL, Milstead knows what type of potential Crawford has.

“He has NFL-type qualities with his size, his speed and athleticism,” Milstead said. “He’s smart, he’s durable. He did a very good job for us last year and didn’t miss a game. This year, he’s grown even more in terms of his leadership. He has that inner-city tenacity. If you go up against him, you’re going to know you’re in a fight every play.”

“I’m fortunate to have inherited him,” Milstead added. “One thing about him, he’s a sponge. He listens to everything we tell him. He’s eager to get better and works so hard to perfect his craft.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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