Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia running back Justin Crawford (25) dives for a near-touchdown during the first quarter against Texas on Dec. 18.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia senior running back Justin Crawford has decided to skip the Heart of Dallas Bowl in order to focus on preparation for the NFL draft.

He joins a handful of players who decided the reward of playing in a minor bowl game wasn’t worth the risk of being injured. Other players skipping the postseason are Oregon’s career rushing leader Royce Freeman, Florida State safety Derwin James, and Texas stars Connor Williams and DeShon Elliott.

During back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Crawford appeared in 25 games and made 354 carries plus 22 catches.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said late Thursday. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family.

“He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Mock drafts project Crawford as a middle- to late-rounds pick.

He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors this season, scoring seven touchdowns and entering the bowl schedule as the league’s third-leading rusher with 1,061 yards. Crawford’s seven 100-yard games included a season-high 125 yards at Kansas and he scored a career-high three touchdowns against Delaware State on Sept. 16.

The 2015 national offensive player of the year in junior college, he was a late addition to the 2016 recruiting class after Wendell Smallwood declared for the NFL draft. Crawford became the first West Virginia running back since Noel Devine in 2008 and 2009 to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in consecutive seasons.

In what turned out to be his final college game, Crawford gained 97 yards on 17 carries during a 59-31 loss at Oklahoma.

The Mountaineers (7-5) are now 6.5-point underdogs versus Utah (6-6) in their Dec. 26 bowl matchup.

Crawford’s absence likely means an expanded bowl game role for Kennedy McKoy, who ran 25 times for 137 yards and three scores against the Sooners, including more than a dozen times out of the wildcat formation.

McKoy has 570 yards this season (5.1 per carry), while fellow sophomore Martell Pettaway has been used sparingly with 41 attempts for 145 yards.

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