Southern Miss defensive lineman Rod Crayton has defied the odds his entire life.
When the fifth-year senior wraps up his Golden Eagle career, he hopes to prove even more people wrong by making a run at the National Football League. But if pro football isn't in the cards for Crayton, he has a back-up plan.
"When football's all over with and it's time to work, I'm trying to go to grad school," Crayton said. "Maybe be a strength and conditioning coach somewhere. I think I want to stay around football and I like the weight room."
Crayton really learned to like the weight room over the summer. Dropping nearly 50 pounds during the offseason, the defensive tackle entered the year at 287 pounds. And Crayton saw results right away, recording five tackles and forcing a fumble in USM's season-opening loss to Kentucky.
"My last year man, I just wanted to do everything that I could," Crayton said. "Wanted to go out with a bang. I just decided that maybe if I lost a little weight, I'd probably move a little better."
"He's come a long way," said USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro. "You've heard me talk about it many times before. I think the light bulb finally came on for good and he knows that this is his time. He's taking advantage of that fully."
The shredded weight is especially helpful on Crayton considering he has prosthetic foot. When he was in the third grade, a lawnmower accidentally ran over Crayton's right foot, causing part of it to be amputated.
"You know how big offensive lineman are," Crayton said. "My body weight, their body weight, that ain't good news to the prosthetic."
Nine-years-old at the time of the accident, Crayton's goals of playing college football did not change. In fact, the event motivated him even more.
"Once I got in my accident, after my first surgery, the first thing I asked my grandmamma was if I was going to be able to play [football] again," Crayton said. "I didn't feel sorry for myself then. Everybody's standing around me crying. Wipe your face off, I'm alright. I'm living. I didn't try to let it affect my childhood. I was at P.E., as soon as I got back to school, running on crutches. [I] just let it motivate me and beat the odds. That's the approach I always took."
With 20 tackles including 4.5 for loss this season, Crayton continues to prove his doubters wrong. Crayton's message for others who face adversity is to turn your pain into a gain.
"Everybody else isn't going to see your dream," Crayton said. "As long as you see it and you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want to do. Just like in life, something might be hurting but you can't sit there and want somebody to feel sorry for you. You've got to move on. You've got to take your pain as a man. I try to never let my pain stop me."