Speaking with PEOPLE in this week’s first-ever Kindness Issue, the America’s Got Talent host credits Sandler, 53, with giving him the successful on-screen career.
“He put me in The Longest Yard, and we filmed five more movies together,” Crews, 51, says about the 2005 film, in which he appeared as Cheeseburger Eddy and Sandler starred as Paul Crewe.
Following The Longest Yard, Crews and Sandler appeared in Click (2006), Blended (2014), The Ridiculous 6 (2015) and Sandy Wexler (2017).
“He always included me; he never forgot me,” Crews adds.
And while the actor says his White Chicks costar and director Keenen Ivory Wayans “gave me the confidence” to succeed in his craft, it was Sandler who “gave me a career.”
- PEOPLE’s first-ever Kindness Issue is dedicated to highlighting the ways, big and small, that kindness can make a difference and change lives. Click here and pick up the issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 8, for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities.
Sandler and Wayans aren’t the only people who Crews says helped changed his life, though.
Prior to pursuing acting, Crews played college football before being drafted into the NFL. It was his high school football coach, Lee Williams, who believed he could make it as a pro.
“He was my coach and basically gave me all the confidence I needed. He told me to go to a Division I school on a scholarship; he said, ‘You are good enough.’ I’d never hear that. Later when I was with the San Diego Chargers, I flew him out to a game and told him, ‘You’re why I’m here.’ “
During his time playing for the Washington Redskins, the NFL alum also forged a tight friendship with his teammate Ken Harvey, who helped Crews get his footing in Los Angeles as an actor
“He was a superstar, and I was at the end of the roster, and he invited me over to his house just to hang out. He loaned me money to move to L.A. To this day he’s my best friend,” Crews says of Harvey.
Also among the 10 people who made a profound impact on the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star’s life is his pastor and spiritual mentor Jim Reeves, whom he esteems as a father figure.
“He has been my pastor for 20 years — he’s like a dad to me,” Crews says. “He gives me the best advice. I just want to pay it all forward.”