Jackpot of a recruit
Crawford finds his way back to soccer field after following girlfriend to GJ
Josh Pittman shook his head and laughed quietly while thinking about how the Colorado Mesa University men’s soccer team was able to sign senior attacking midfielder Legofi Crawford.
It’s hard to believe how he lucked into Crawford, a signing Pittman called “probably the biggest surprise that’s fallen onto our doorstep like that.”
A dimly lit Applebee’s seems like an unlikely place to find a college soccer signee, but this past summer it was where Crawford went from hanging up his cleats to becoming one of the Mavericks’ leading scorers.
Northwest College coach Rob Hill came to CMU to be part of a summer skills camp with Pittman. Hill, who started the Powell, Wyo., junior college’s soccer program in 2010, signed Crawford as one of his first recruits. The Lakeland, Fla., native helped lead the Trappers to a Region IX runner-up finish in 2010 during their first varsity season and a Region IX championship in 2011.
Hill crossed paths with Crawford in Applebee’s and was surprised to see Crawford in Grand Junction. Hill expected Crawford to be at MSU-Billings, where he played during the 2012 season.
When Hill asked Crawford why he was in Grand Junction, Crawford’s answer was two-pronged. First, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee and broke his right wrist, a break that limited the use of his right thumb. Physically, Crawford felt like he was done playing soccer.
The second reason was much simpler.
“You know,” Crawford said, cracking a smile. “Girlfriend.”
Crawford met his girlfriend, Miriam Gelderloos, while playing at Northwest College, where she was a member of the women’s soccer team. A year younger than Crawford, Gelderloos remained at Northwest College for her sophomore season while Crawford played at MSU-Billings for his junior season.
After spending a year commuting nearly two hours between schools just to see his girlfriend — and with injuries piling up — Crawford quit soccer.
Gelderloos signed with the Mavericks, and Crawford moved with her to Grand Junction early this summer and was accepted into the nursing program.
Then, Crawford ran into Hill. Soon after, Hill called Pittman.
“(Hill) called me and said that he had seen L.C.,” Pittman said. “He explained the situation to me, and then I called his coaches at Montana State-Billings, and they told me they’d been expecting my call.”
With Crawford released, and Pittman convinced of the injured midfielder’s skill, Pittman offered Crawford a spot on the team.
Crawford was healing slowly, but he started to feel the itch to play again.
“I guess I wasn’t mentally ready to hang up my boots,” Crawford said. “I wanted to keep playing and have a solid last year. But I was done playing soccer with my injuries, and I figured I was done.
“But (Pittman) had been talking to my old coach, and it went on from there. Then he offered me, and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Crawford started the season still recovering from his knee injury and didn’t round into form until the Mavericks’ game against Adams State on Sept. 29. Crawford scored against CSU-Pueblo two days prior on a header. But against the Grizzlies, Crawford showcased his ability to do what Pittman calls “create something special out of nothing.”
That’s something Pittman said the Mavericks haven’t had in a long time.
Crawford received the ball on the right side of the field with ample space up the wing. As two defenders closed on him, he accelerated on the right side before making a hard cut toward the penalty box.
The turn and plant, with all of his weight on his right knee, caused a Grizzlies defender to slide past him on the turf. Crawford beat one more defender before burying what would be the first goal in the 2-1 win.
“I think the scariest part about his success (early in the season) is that he hadn’t completely healed,” Pittman said. “He spent the first four to six weeks of the season getting fit. And I mean, now, it’s been a blessing to have him and he’s a great player.”
Crawford finished the regular season with four goals, tied with Alan Hernandez for the most on the Mavericks.
The goals, which helped CMU secure a No. 3 seed in the RMAC tournament, are due in large part to Pittman’s confidence in him, Crawford said.
“Coach took a huge gamble by knowing that I’m coming here even with two injuries,” Crawford said. “A coach with that kind of confidence in you means everything. I just have to prove that I’m worth what Coach gave me.”