One of the best stories about resilience on UGA’s football team this season is inside linebacker Tae Crowder.
Crowder wasn’t highly recruited out of high school – and, in fact, only got an offer from the Bulldogs at the last-minute in 2015 after another UGA commit surprisingly signed elsewhere.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder also has struggled to get playing time over the past four seasons, finally cracking into the lineup as a part-time starter last year as a junior.
But Crowder never let go of his dreams. And entering his fifth year of football at UGA, Crowder finds himself on top of the depth chart, and being counted upon to be one of the team’s leaders.
“(During the recruiting process), there were some SEC schools that told him straight up ‘You’re not going to play here — and you’re not going to be able to play in the SEC,’” said Dwight Jones, who coached Crowder at Harris County High School in Hamilton, Ga.
“I think Tae wanted to prove a lot of people wrong. When he got that Georgia offer at the last-minute, there was no doubt that’s what he wanted to do. There was no doubt he wanted to be in the SEC, and he was willing to stick it and work hard (until he could play), however long it took.
“He knows playing linebacker at Georgia in the SEC is a big deal. We called it ‘holding the rope’ at Harris County. I think he’s held the rope at Georgia. He hasn’t let his teammates down. He hasn’t run from the hard work. He has put in the hard work in order to try to be successful.”
Making big plays in other ways
Even though Crowder hasn’t started much over the past few years, he has made his presence felt strongly on special teams. He had one of UGA’s biggest plays during the team’s 2017 run to the national championship. Against Oklahoma in the playoff semifinals, Crowder recovered an on-sides kick which led to a field goal just before halftime. Those points proved critical in pushing the game to overtime.
“I tell everybody that I talk to that if Tae doesn’t make that play, Georgia doesn’t win that game,” Jones told DawgNation. “That’s how big of play it was.
“(Against Alabama in the national championship), he absolutely decapitated a kid on kickoff return. I have twin boys who are sophomores, and we went absolutely berserk when we saw it happen.
“(This past year against Alabama), he flew around the field, I think Tae was in the right place at the right time for most of the game. I think he proved to himself and others that he could go out there and play well against great competition and do things to help Georgia be successful.”
New role as a team leader
This year will be much different role for Crowder, as the veteran will be expected to contribute to the young defense as a leader, as well as a playmaker. In past years, the quiet but humble Crowder has mostly let his stellar play speak for him.
“He does need to get a little more vocal on the football field,” Jones said. “We always talk about let your actions be louder than your words. If you’re going to be good, everybody is going to know you’re good by what you do on the field. Not by what you talk about.
“But I think Tae needs to be a more vocal leader this season, by helping those other kids on the field get lined up. He needs to help those young players push through the ‘dog days of August,’ because he has been there. He has been there … when he knew he wasn’t going to get a rep or touch the field. And he fought through all of that, and is now going to reap the benefits of that.
“So I think they are looking for him as a leader, someone to rally the defense, and for Tae to help get his teammates to play for 60 minutes. Tae has confidence, he just needs to let that confidence come out on the field a little bit more … because I know they’re going to be young in some spots. I think he’s laid the foundation to build a great senior year.”
The most unlikely Bulldog?
Crowder is one of three remaining members of UGA’s 2015 recruiting class, including defensive lineman Justin Young and defensive end Michael Barnett. As a high school senior, Crowder was committed to Georgia Southern, but signed with the Bulldogs after another commit (NFL standout Chris Carson) flipped to Oklahoma State in a truly wild change of events just before signing day.
After arriving at UGA as a running back, Crowder switched to inside linebacker in the middle of his second season.
“Tae has a great work ethic,” Jones said. “I think that has been proven by moving from running back, where he was recruited at. I think Coach Smart let everybody know really early that he wasn’t going to stay at running back.
“I think he’s contributed, and he played well last year when he had the opportunity to play more. We’re just tickled to death. We talked the other week. He sent me a text on Father’s Day. We love each other, and Tae Crowder is a quality young man.”