Southern Miss defensive lineman Rod Crayton is a special football player for a myriad of reasons.
The former 3-time Alabama 4-A defensive lineman of the year and four-star recruit notched back-to-back 150-plus tackle seasons at Dadeville High School. He was named one of Alabama’s top 12 high school football players, among others in the Alabama Sports Writers Association Super 12. Furthermore, he had three tackles against Mississippi State in the Aug. 30 season-opener.
But what truly sets Crayton apart from other players is his ability to excel despite one problem: Crayton has a prosthetic foot. Well, partially.
When he was in the third grade, Crayton suffered an accident that resulted in part of his right foot being amputated. The day of the accident, Crayton and two of his cousins were in the yard while his grandmother cut the grass.
She told them to pick up rocks so she would not run over them with the lawnmower and bust the glass windows. When Crayton’s cousins finished, they sat on the porch while loud car speakers distracted both Crayton and his grandmother.
With both of them distracted, she unknowingly ran over Crayton. She leapt off the lawnmower, raised it and noticed his foot was inside the lawnmower blade. His grandmother took him to a hospital in Birmingham where he stayed for nearly three weeks.
“The lawnmower really didn’t do that much damage. The doctors were the ones that said they couldn’t do much because of the grass,” Crayton said.
Crayton’s grandfather had to work back home, which was three hours away, but each day he would make the drive to see Crayton in the hospital. Ever since that incident, he has had to walk with help from a prosthetic brace, but he really does not like to bring attention to himself. He just wants to be treated the same as anyone else.
“It’s become normal for me. It happened to me at such a young age. I’m used to it,” Crayton said. “How it feels to walk on your two feet is exactly how it feels for me.”
Crayton is not the only FCS football player to play with a prosthetic. Neil Parry played football for San Jose State from 2000 to 2003. In a game against Texas El-Paso on October 14, 2000, Parry came streaking down the field to cover a kick off for the Spartans.
A teammate was blocked into him and sent Parry to the hospital with a compound fracture in his leg that required 25 surgeries to repair. Crayton and Parry remain the only known recorded FCS college football players to have played with a prosthetic. Parry is now a graduate assistant for the football program at San Jose State.
However, there is one man who made it to the big leagues, despite his amputation. Monty Stratton was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1934-1938 for the Chicago White Sox.
After a hunting accident forced him to amputate his right leg, he was forced to compete in the minor leagues for the rest of his career. He compiled a record of 18-8 while in the minors. There have been others that have played sports with a prosthetic, but Crayton and Parry are the only two to continue their football careers.
Crayton is used to people wanting to know about the accident more than his football career, but he would rather be interviewed for his on the field accomplishments than for his handicap.
However, Crayton says it would never keep him down nor will he ever wish that the accident did not occur. “Never take anything back, everything happens for a reason. God gave you one life to live and you have to live it to the best of your ability.”
His career, which started at Dadeville High School in Alabama, is nothing to scoff at. In addition to his notable accomplishments as a high school football player, he also had four sacks and six fumble recoveries in his senior year.
He is also in the Alabama High School record books, finishing his career with 523 tackles, good for sixth most all-time. When it came down to choosing between schools, Crayton knew where he wanted to go but decided to wait until National Signing Day.
Crayton held offers from several SEC schools including LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee as a four-star prospect. His cousin, Rodney Crayton, chose to play in the SEC at Auburn from 1998-2001.
However, due to family reasons and proximity to his hometown, Dadeville, Alabama., Crayton decided to play at USM. The four hour commute was a selling point as the majority of offers he received were from schools much farther than that.
After redshirting his freshman year at Southern Miss, Crayton hopes to contribute and to join the likes of Williams, Nunez-Roches, Smith and McCullum.
According to Crayton, his main influence is Nunez-Roches. “(Nunez-Roches) and Adam Williams are some guys I really look up to,” he said. “Those two and Dasman, they’re good leaders. They always tell everyone what they need to do and work on.”
At 6-feet, 1-inch and 290 pounds, Crayton will be one of the bigger interior defensive linemen for the Golden Eagles. Only Nunez-Roches and Williams possess more size on the front. Crayton’s presence should help resurrect what was an anemic defensive line a season ago.