UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Jack Crawford was one of England's top basketball prospects when he moved to the United States to pursue a career in the sport four years ago.
He had played on the English national team for three seasons and traveled to places such as Ireland, Germany and France to compete.
But soon after enrolling at St. Augustine Prep School in Richland, N.J., Crawford learned he would have to sit out a year of basketball.
His coaches encouraged him to give American football a try, and Crawford got his first taste of it as a junior. One year later, he had numerous Division I-A scholarship offers for football. Basketball had become somewhat of an afterthought.
Despite his limited football experience, Crawford -- a 6-foot-5, 262-pound sophomore defensive end -- may be one of the up-and-coming stars on Penn State's revamped defense this fall.
"I came over here with a dream and I just want to get to the next level," Crawford said after the Blue-White spring game Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno believes Crawford has a bright future with the Nittany Lions.
"He's an outstanding prospect," Paterno said. "He works hard, is tough, is trying to be really good. He's been a real asset to us."
Paterno also is high on another sophomore -- Michael Mauti, a 6-2, 224-pound outside linebacker from Mandeville, La. He received the Jim O'Hora Award Saturday as the most improved defensive player this spring.
"Mauti is a big-time player," Paterno said.
Mauti's older brother, Patrick, is a fifth-year senior walk-on wide receiver with the Lions and his father, Rich, was a wideout at Penn State in the mid-1970s before playing in the NFL.
Crawford, Mauti and sophomore tailback Brandon Beachum from Youngstown, Ohio, were the only true freshmen to see action in all 13 games last season. Crawford was on the field for 127 plays but had just four tackles. Mauti, an early enrollee, played 249 snaps, finishing with 26 tackles and one forced fumble.
With the loss of the team's top three defensive ends -- first-round NFL draft pick Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines -- Crawford is being counted on to use his size and quickness to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
He has been timed at 4.55 in the 40-yard dash.
"I'm still working on my technique now, I'm still learning," Crawford said. "... [Maybin] worked hard to get where he is. I'm going to learn from him, and I'm going to hopefully get to where he is now."
Defensive tackle Jared Odrick, a first-team All-Big Ten pick last year, said Crawford has plenty of potential.
"Jack is an athletic guy," Odrick said. "... He's just as fast as the guy who just left -- Maybin. He's very athletic and he's got all the tools to be a great defensive end and he's just putting it all together right now."
Mauti, who enrolled in school in January 2008, was a major contributor on the special teams last year and participated in 30 plays against Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
He has taken over the No. 1 spot created by the departure of Tyrell Sales.
"Last spring, I played safety and I think that helped me out," Mauti said. "I got to play during the season. ... I have the scheme down, so now it's just about playing football.
"Everyone knows that this is Linebacker U and we have a lot of depth and competition. ... We have summer camp, so we'll see what happens in the fall."
Ron Musselman can be reached at email@example.com .