As Mark Crawford sat in his room and watched his University of Kentucky football teammates take on Western Kentucky while he served a one-game suspension, he had a flashback to his junior college days in Coffeyville, Kan.
"Being in Coffeyville is like a nightmare," Crawford said. "There are great coaches there and it's a great junior college football-wise, but socially it's horrible. Just coming from there makes you appreciate stuff like a new pair of gloves or when (UK equipment manager) Tom (Kalinowski) washes your clothes or you get a new pair of cleats."
Crawford knew right then and there he had to get his act together.
"When you're suspended, you don't even really get to practice or go to the games," he said. "I was watching the game on TV and was like, 'Why am I on my couch watching the game and not making plays?' It was somewhat of a reality check. I didn't want to be on the couch watching my team, so I had to tighten up and make better decisions."
Crawford, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules, has come back with a vengeance. The junior had three tackles at Florida then added two tackles for loss and a sack against Mississippi last weekend. Crawford had been one of UK's best defensive tackles in the spring but was set back by the suspension.
"We're starting to see the old Mark from spring," defensive line coach David Turner said. "He's playing with emotion, making some plays and starting to be a little bit of a force. He's a guy we count on because of the passion that he brings. Even days he doesn't feel good, he comes out here and works. All he needs is consistency to become a really good player. When the D-line goes hard, everybody goes hard. When we're flying around and playing with emotion, then everybody else does it. The big guys set the tone."
Crawford's energy is perhaps just as important as his play making, as he is one of the more vocal and demonstrative players on the UK roster.
"That's the place where I can hit somebody and not get in trouble for it," he said. "I can channel all my energy toward those offensive linemen and just let it go. People are built different. Some people may make a play and be happy inside, but if I make a play, you're going to know I made a play."
Crawford's strong play the last couple of weeks has earned him a spot in the starting lineup.
"As his suspension has worn off and been put behind him, every week you've seen Mark become more of a leader," Coach Joker Phillips said. "He plays aggressive. I really like him and like the way he plays. He plays with a motor. He brings something to us on defense that we need, on both sides of the ball. He's a really aggressive guy. He's one of those guys on the sideline who is upbeat, trying to get everybody into the game, and we just need his presence a little bit more on the defensive line."
But Crawford has nothing but respect for the player he's replacing, junior walk-on Luke McDermott, who leads the team with three sacks.
"He's one of the hardest workers on the team and deserved every snap he got," Crawford said.
Crawford said he received looks from several Big Ten schools out of Indianapolis Ben Davis High School, but academics forced him to go the junior-college route. And while Coffeyville might not have been a metropolis, it forced Crawford on the straight and narrow with his schoolwork.
"That was a blessing in itself," Crawford said. "I grew up in my juco years. I was older and had been there, done that and I could focus on my school and football. There was literally nothing else to do. If you didn't have a TV you were in trouble. But I would do it all over again. Coffeyville was a great experience for me. It taught me a lot. I built friendships with guys I still have relationships with. And sometimes not having stuff to do is one of the best things. Just sitting in your room, some people need that."