Gophers specialists Dragan Kesich, Mark Crawford enjoy ‘silly' bond

The cliché in college football rings true at the University of Minnesota: Specialists are a unique group with personalities of their own.

You sort of have to be when you’re mostly in a thankless spot, either the hero for making a game-winning kick or getting all the blame when missing. Or if a punt doesn’t flip the field position, it’s a lonely jog back to the sideline.

Away from the field, Dragan Kesich and Mark Crawford enjoy movies and just recently bought a dart board. There have already been some intense match-ups in the specialist house.

"Dragan started hot, really hot. I think I pulled it back and got 10 in a row. It’s probably even honestly if we look into it," Crawford said.

Kesich was asked to describe his personality as a specialist.

"Silly. Specialists are kind of weird, we’re kind of a weird group. We have a 30-year-old, and a 17-year-old coming in the fall. We’ve got a big variety, a lot of personality in that group," Kesich said. "Not many people realize that being a specialist is fun. It’s a great time."

The 30-year-old Kesich is referring to is Crawford. The Australia native got a late start to college after dabbling in professional cricket and rugby. He’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in human resources and industrial relations. 

"Love being here, love being at the school. I’ll study for as long as I can and play football as long as I can. I want to ride this wave as long as I can," Crawford said. "I don’t really look at the fact that I’m 30 years old too much right now. Every now and then there’s guys that will say ‘Hold on Dad.’ They help keep me young."

They both have a new position coach this year, after Rob Wenger stepped down. The job is now Bob Ligashesky’s, and they’ve made an immediate bond.

"It’s awesome. He brings a different experience and different mindset that’s really helping me take my game to the next level. He’s an awesome dude, he’s a big movie guy so if you want a good movie to watch, he’ll give you some good options," Kesich said.

After being solely on kickoff duty in 2022, Kesich made a major leap. Matthew Trickett graduated, and Kesich made all 27 point-after attempts in 2023. He also was 23-of-27 on field goals, including a 47-yarder to lift the Gophers over Nebraska 13-10 in last year’s regular season opener. He also had four field goals at Iowa, including the game-winner with 8:33 left, to give Minnesota its first win over the Hawkeyes in seven tries under P.J. Fleck.

Kesich was named the Big Ten Kicker of the Year at the end of the season.

"It’s an amazing feeling. It’s not just me, I’ve got to give big thanks to Crawford and Brady Weeks and all the protection up front. I always talk about having Matthew Trickett here and how big of a help he was for me and taking my game to the next level," Kesich said. "It’s not just me doing that stuff, it’s an awesome feeling, a surreal feeling and hopefully we can back it up this year."

Crawford averaged 42.5 yards per punt last season, recording just four touchbacks in 65 tries and had a season-long of 56 yards. He had 25 punts inside the 20-yard line.

He says his approach doesn’t change under a new position coach.

"Fundamentally for me it’s a pretty similar process. I just want to catch the ball, put it on my foot and get it up there and out there to make sure we put the team in the best position," Crawford said.