EDITOR’S NOTE: This original Tae Crowder story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access the other HomeGrown Talent articles, please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com.
The eye black can tell the Tae Crowder story. Or at least kick it off.
Crowder’s eye black is the 2019 model. It no longer requires a big jumbo marker. The strip of black adhesive allows the wearer to write on that strip.
He has done so often in his breakthrough senior year. It could convey his struggle and pain, but he chooses hope instead.
It is limited, though. It cannot trace the position changes before he settled in during his fifth season in Athens. He now patrols the middle of Georgia’s nationally-rated defense. Yet his season is not an example of one of the oldest guys on the team finally being good enough.
It is more like he is finally being great.
Tae Crowder has been front and center in the middle of the Georgia defense this season. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
The Harris County High alum (Hamilton, Ga.) did soak up four previous seasons of how the Georgia staff sculpts and molds its ILBs, including three under Kirby Smart.
Now, he’s finally earned the starting reps.
That’s a good story, but this takes a speed turn towards the exceptional with the way he’s played this fall. His recent selection as a Butkus Award semifinalist jacks up the degree of difficulty with his climb a great deal.
That Butkus recognition places the first-year starter among the top 12 linebackers in college football.
How does one go from four career starts to a Butkus semifinalist? What powers such a sharp hairpin turn in his football career?
Check the film each week. Then check his eye black. These scripts in white ink have been seen this fall:
“#LLB 4s up”
His head coach could start his story there, too. His proud inside linebackers coach knows what those things mean. So does his buddy up in Chicago. That’s the one who is younger than him and yet somehow he is the one who is already in his second NFL season.
Crowder just never gave up. Never. He just never walked back his dream to play for Georgia. That’s what impresses his family the most.
“LLB 4s up” is for his lost older brother. It means Long Live Big. If his brother Cortez Johnson, Jr. was still alive today, he would still just be 23 years young.
Everyone knew him as “Big Man” and not as Cortez Johnson. When Crowder makes a play, that is for him. It was inspired by him, too.
“Every time I make a big play I thank God and I just think about him every time,” Tae Crowder said.
When he said that, he took a breath. Pausing his train of thought to point to the initials “LLB” that are also tattooed across his chest and neck.