FOOTBALL: Seniors begin to reflect on Ball State careers

Brandon Crawford and Tanner Justice may be two of the most unlikely senior starters in Ball State University history.

The two will be among the 11 seniors honored before their final game at Scheumann Stadium on Wednesday against Central Michigan University.

Crawford and Justice know their playing days are coming to a close, but are trying to keep it out of their thoughts.

"Coach [Stan Parrish] talks about it, a lot," Crawford said. "He says it, but it hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm just going to enjoy what I have until the last snap."

For Crawford and Justice, it has been an especially long road to the end of their careers. Both walked on five years ago and worked themselves into regular roles as Cardinals.

The story of Crawford, the defensive captain and 33-year old former Marine, is familiar by now. ESPN's College Gameday recently ran a segment about Crawford and he was honored in a special about courage in sports that aired on CBS. But Parrish said Crawford's importance to the Cardinals can't be overplayed.

"Those guys are all playing hard," Parrish said. "I give them a lot of kudos every day. These young guys have a lot to look forward to; these guys have a couple weeks. I want to treat them with respect and integrity."

Justice wasn't supposed to be the starting quarterback Wednesday. After spending three years behind Nate Davis, Justice again started the year as a backup, this time to Kelly Page. But when Page was injured against Bowling Green State University, Justice stepped in as the starter for the first time in his career.

Even Justice is surprised by the turn of events that has him starting on his Senior Day.
"In the back of my mind, [starting] was the goal," he said. "But expected to be,coming into this year? No."

Despite being a backup throughout his career, Justice still found his way onto the field as the holder for place kicks. When Ball State traveled to No. 24 University of Nebraska in 2007, it had a chance to win the game with a 55-yard field goal as time was expiring. Jake Hogue missed the kick, but Justice still cherishes the memory.

"Playing at Nebraska, being out there to hold that field goal when we were down 41-40," Justice said. "We missed it and it's kind of bittersweet. That was my favorite place we've ever played."

This season, Justice has thrown for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly though, he was the quarterback for the Cardinals' lone win this season and one of Crawford's favorite moments.

"I've seen those guys really hungry," Crawford said. "All through the summer, all through the season coming so close, coming so close and not getting it. It's like they never gave up, they kept fighting through everything. It was just the feeling. When that game was over I just sat in the locker room and took it all in."

Crawford and Justice will probably do just that again Wednesday night as the lights go down on their time at Scheumann Stadium.

"You've just got to take it all in and take it one play at a time." Crawford said. "We've all worked hard and we've all come to that point."