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Clifton Crews hoping to get shot at NFL spot

Former Jonesboro High standout Clifton Crews is hoping to attract the attention of an NFL team for next month’s NFL draft. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Former Jonesboro High standout Clifton Crews is hoping to attract the attention of an NFL team for next month’s NFL draft. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

JONESBORO — Clifton Crews was all settled in at the quarterback position at Jonesboro High before a coaching change.

The new staff liked Crews’ quarterbacking skills, but figured his best shot at the next level and beyond was on the other side of the ball.

Tim Floyd and his new staff at Jonesboro asked Crews to double as a quarterback and safety.

It proved to be the right move for the athletic Crews, who also played on the school’s region championship basketball team.

“The coaches kept asking me if I could play safety,” Crews recalled last week. “They liked my versatility.”

And now, after a five-year career at upstart South Alabama, Crews has been catching the eyes of NFL personnel. After a strong performance at the Jaguars Pro Day, the outside linebacker was invited to the NFL Regional Combine at the Atlanta Falcons training complex in Flowery Branch earlier this month.

He looked impressive there, and got an invite to the Super Regional Combine next month at Ford Field in Detroit. According to a news release issued last October by the NFL, 29 of the regional or super regional combine participants from last spring secured 53-man roster positions.

“I’m working hard to reach my goal of playing in the NFL,” Crews said.

Although he started as an outside linebacker on the college level, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder has been looked at as a safety on the professional level. It is a move he said he doesn’t mind making.

“I will play anywhere to have a shot in the NFL,” Crews said. “I’ll play special teams, I’ll be the long snapper or holder. I will do whatever it takes.”

Jonesboro assistant coach Nate Wardlaw said he is excited for Crews, who remains close to the Cardinals coaching staff. Wardlaw and former Jonesboro defensive coordinator Cap Burnett were instrumental in his move to the defensive side of the ball.

“We saw that he played real aggressive and was a competitor,” Wardlaw said. “He showed good leadership. At Jonesboro, we believe in keeping the best players on the field. He was a natural for defense.”

Coming out of Jonesboro in 2009, Crews had some offers from Southwestern Athletic Conference schools to play quarterback. His biggest offers to play on the defensive side of the ball came from Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia State and South Alabama.

Both South Alabama and Georgia State were just starting their football programs.

Because South Alabama was in its inaugural season, the players were given an extra year of eligibility as they played a schedule against mostly non-college teams.

This time allowed Crews to obtain his degree last December.

Although he played out of the lime-light of big-time college athletics, Crews said he has no regrets on choosing the South Alabama program.

“I felt that God had a plan for me the whole time,” Crews said. “I’m very excited about my opportunities. I feel like I’m a diamond in the rough. I have to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Jonesboro athletic director Dan Maehlman, who coached Crews in basketball, believes he will be successful. NFL draft analyst has him as a free-agent possibility following the draft.

“When the NFL does its research, they will discover a kid that has the drive to succeed,” Maehlman said. “The way he asserts himself, I know he can perform on that level.”