ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sometimes, it seems, life in his adopted country playing his adopted game grows bigger and more fantastic each day.

A few years ago Jack Crawford played his first American football and didn't really even know where to line up, where to run.

But then he discovered the peace of living in a beach town in winter and the pleasant mountains of a college football town in summer and so much of everything new and eye-opening in between.

So many new people to meet, new countryside to explore, new customs to learn. A never-ending overload of joyful awakenings, one more exciting and compelling than the last.

Now it's been 10 days of football practices near palm trees and one amusement park trip after another for Penn State's sophomore defensive end.

Monday afternoon, for example, started with back-to-back rides on the Incredible Hulk Coaster in Universal Studios. So while the Capital One Bowl against LSU looms on New Year's Day, there always is time for fun on these trips, too.

Crawford smiles and talks about it all politely and thoughtfully. His soft British accent and easy-going personality are at odds with his huge, muscle-ripped frame made well for hitting quarterbacks.

Many believe the Nittany Lions have their next great lineman on their hands, just beginning to realize his potential and ability.

Even he could never have dreamed of such things happening.

"I think about that a lot, actually. It's crazy that I'm at Universal Studios on a bowl trip. It's just amazing.


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I knew I always wanted to live in America, but I never dreamed I'd be lucky enough to be in the position I'm in now.

"I appreciate everything, all the help people give me over here. I appreciate everything everybody's done for me."

* * *

This story really starts with a chance encounter.

Lincoln Crawford grew up playing cricket in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. He fled to England for college and opportunities of all kinds. He wanted a better life.

There he met his future wife, Janet.

Their third son would be named Jack.

Lincoln Crawford worked as a security guard at night and studied law during the day. Eventually, he tutored Jack in just about every sport imaginable, from cricket to boxing to basketball to soccer.

Soon enough, Jack began growing into his 6-foot-5 frame and distinguishing himself most on the basketball court. He lived in a crowded, congested section of London and dreamed of going to America one day to play that game.

And that's what he did as part of a high school exchange program. He was homesick but couldn't resist the opportunity and open arms of the Dandrea family on the Jersey Shore, a loving family of giants like him.

He grew close to their son, Peter, who went on to play offensive line at the University of Pennsylvania. He enjoyed the routine of running the beach with father Steve Dandrea, who is 6-foot-3.

"When you first meet Jack he's an enormous guy," said mother Mary Dandrea. "He could be pretty intimidating, but he doesn't come across that way. He's a very thoughtful, intriguing kind of person to have a conversation with. He's versed on a lot of things. He's philosophical. Not the typical kind of discussion you'd have with a teenage boy."

The startling experiences just kept coming for Crawford.

While walking the halls at his new American high school the football coach spotted him, recruited him on the spot and finally convinced him to give the sport a chance.

"I was confused," Crawford said, remembering back to those first practices as a junior. "I didn't know anything about the game. I must have lined up three times in a row offsides as a wide receiver."

Though he had so much to learn, it was a blessing in a way. Coaches coveted the athleticism that came with no bad habits.

Take this snapshot from high school: Coaches wondered, why during grueling, summer two-a-day workouts, that Crawford seemed to be fading, just about melting in the afternoons.

Then they discovered he was continuing to run the beach at night.

"He just thought it was more conditioning he should be doing," Mary Dandrea said. "Jack didn't understand the game, but that also meant that everything was upside."

And before long, college recruiters showed up from Ohio State to Florida, more intrigued by his football potential than his basketball skills.

"I just loved watching the game," he said. "The first thing I saw was Penn State in the Orange Bowl, and I thought to myself, 'I never want to play for Penn State.' They didn't have their names on their backs and stuff like that.

"And then I watched the USC-Texas (national title game), and that's when I decided I wanted to play football. I had never seen a crowd like that. I had never seen an event like that for college."

But Penn State, strangely enough to him, ended up feeling like the best fit.

Sure enough, the big kid began terrorizing opposing quarterback almost from the start, earning the nickname, "Jack the Ripper," from Penn State fans.

* * *

And yet it's still a gradual process.

He played almost exclusively backup minutes as a true freshman in 2008. This season he was a starter and collected an impressive 13.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks.

"He's one of the hardest workers on the team," said cornerback D'Anton Lynn. "For someone who didn't play football in high school very much he definitely has a lot of passion for the game. He's always in the weight room after hours, working on his game, watching a lot of film. He really studies his opponent."

He seemed to tire, though, down the stretch. Remember, he had never played so much football in his life.

There still is a lot of learning yet to do.

So much potential yet to be realized.

So many things yet to experience.

"He's just a really likeable guy. He's very humble and works hard," Mary Dandrea said. "You can't help but wanting someone like that to do well.

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