Grove football coach Ron Culwell doesn’t pull any punches when talking about his senior running back Emmanuel Crawford.
“Emmanuel is a once-in-a-lifetime guy,” said Culwell. “I bet I’ll never see another one like him in my career. I know I haven’t up until now and I’ve been coaching for 41 years. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime back with the ability that he has, the competitiveness that he has, and the skill level that he possesses. It’s just unbelievable to watch him.”
Gatorade agreed with Culwell’s assessment when they recently named Crawford the 2022-23 Oklahoma High School Football Player of the Year.
“The reaction around here is that he deserves it,” stated Culwell. “I announced it in front of our weights class in first hour on Friday. All he had to say was good things about the people that helped him along the way. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
The Gatorade award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field.
Crawford has maintained a 3.7 grade point average while actively volunteering in the Grove community. The Ghana native was sold into slavery when he was three years old, rescued, and eventually adopted.
Crawford led Grove to a 13-1 record this season and helped the Ridgerunners advance to the 5A semifinals. He rushed for 2,304 yards and 36 touchdowns, averaging 10 yards per carry. He also averaged nearly 30 yards per reception and added seven TD catches.
An Arkansas commit, the 5-10, 175-pound running back ended his prep career with 6,777 yards, the most ever by Class 5A player.
Culwell knew Crawford was going to be special when he saw him play in the seventh grade. Crawford was playing linebacker and chased down a ball carrier about to score. He stripped the ball away from the opponent and returned it 85 yards the other way for a score.
“He did that stuff all the time,” said Culwell with a chuckle. “There were a few times when I just looked at our coaches on the sideline and went, ‘Wow, did he just do that?’”
While talking about Crawford’s achievements, Culwell remembered another highlight from this past season.
“The week of the Sapulpa playoff game, we were in the weight room,” recalled Culwell. “I walk by and he’s got 300 pounds on the bar. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Coach, I just want to try it once.’ His max had been 290 pounds before that. He cleans 300 pounds and I said, ’You better rush a yard for every pound that’s on that bar. Then he went out and rushed for 305 yards.”
“He just has a different mindset than anyone I’ve ever coached before,” added Culwell. “He’s reliable. He leans on his faith. He’s mild-mannered. He’s a competitor. You can’t tell him he can’t do something, or he’ll do it until he gets it done.”