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May 26, 2011

Freshman Crosby lives for football

MORE NIEBUHR: Duke | Azubike | Wallace | Kimbrow

Kevin Crosby, the talented freshman inside linebacker from Bamberg-Ehrhardt (S.C.) who already has eight scholarship offers, was introduced to football at an early age.

In fact, it happened before he could walk.

"He grew up around it," said Crosby's father, Kevin Crosby Sr., the head coach at Bamberg-Ehrhardt. "I'd take him to practice when he was still crawling and the cheerleaders would watch him. Once he was walking, he would follow me around. He'd watch drills with a football in his hands."

Now 15 (his birthday was Monday), the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Crosby is among the most sought-after players in a talent-rich state. Clemson and South Carolina have offered. So have programs such as Florida, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Alabama apparently may be close to following suit.

Did we mention he just turned 15?

"(Florida assistant Brian White) said he had never seen a freshman with that size and talent," said Bamberg-Ehrhardt linebackers coach Corey Crosby, Kevin's uncle. "He said he had a home in Florida if he wanted to come to Gainesville."

At first, the coaches who stopped by Bamberg-Ehrhardt, a power in the Palmetto State, this spring didn't go with the intention of offering Crosby. Instead, they were there to check out players such as Rivals250 defensive end Martin Aiken and defensive tackle David Deleon, both of whom have accumulated impressive offer lists.

But, "Kevin stood out on film," Corey Crosby said. "They would say, 'What about your freshman?' And then the word kind of got out about him. Then, everyone started calling."

Nobody is more surprised by all the attention paid to Kevin Crosby than Crosby himself. When South Carolina became the first to offer earlier this year, he admittedly was taken aback.

"Me and my cousin were talking one day," Crosby recalled. "And my uncle told me, 'You know, you just got an offer from South Carolina.' I was like, 'An offer ninth grade me?' "

Although he excelled at the middle school level and already was physically ready for varsity football last year, Crosby had his share of growing pains. Particularly early in the season, when coaches and teammates claimed he was thinking too much, which limited his effectiveness.

"At the beginning, the kid seemed kind of lost," said Aiken, Crosby's cousin. "He had this talent you could see in him but that light didn't click yet. As a freshman, you've got to learn the defense, but in the process of doing that he was so scared to be wrong he wasn't going full speed at everything. I think it started to click one day in practice, when the coaches were telling him how good he could be but he was holding himself back."

As the season progressed, Crosby grew both physically and mentally, coaches said. And gradually, his role on the team (he played linebacker and tight end) increased.

"At first, I was so worried about messing up that I'd mess up anyway," Crosby said. "I didn't want to mess up because I was coming out (of the game) if I did. Finally, I just stepped it up and took it on."

By the time the team's 13-1 state runnerup season ended, Crosby had started a handful of games and become a key contributor.

"He played a bunch but we had a lot of seniors so he didn't start much," Corey Crosby said. "But he came in during the state championship game and played a lot. By then, he was playing like a junior. Coming in off middle school, the game was a little fast. But once he picked it up, he kind of took it over."

My uncle told me, 'You know, you just got an offer from South Carolina.' I was like, 'An offer ninth grade me?'
- Kevin Crosby
In his father and uncle, Kevin Crosby would appear to have two solid mentors. Both played Division II football. Kevin Crosby Sr. has been on the Red Raiders staff since 2001 and the head coach since 2008. The program has produced numerous FBS signees in recent years, perhaps most notably defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp, who were stars at Clemson before moving on to the NFL.

"We've kind of dealt with this before with Da'Quan," Corey Crosby said. "He had like two or three offers (as a ninth-grader). But this is the first time we've had a freshman with this many. "

How is the younger Crosby handling all the attention?

"Like any other kid here," Corey Crosby said. "We don't really talk about offers. We talk about what's best for the program."

Kevin Crosby Sr., and wife Denise, a teacher, are doing their best to keep Kevin, one of two children along with 11-year-old Kaitlyn, grounded. To the Crosby family, nothing is more important than school (Kevin carries a 3.7 GPA). Crosby's father is strict about one other thing around the house.

"I don't bring up football at home period," Kevin Crosby Sr. said.

According to those who know him best, the younger Crosby is a typical teenager away from the field. He likes watching college football, hanging out with friends and playing video games.

"He's pretty quiet," his father said.

On the field, Crosby will play everything from inside linebacker to receiver this fall. Colleges are projecting him as a linebacker, but Kevin Crosby Sr. thinks his son eventually could grow into a defensive end, which seems fitting since the school has produced so many good ones at that position.

For his part, Kevin Crosby hardly seems content or overly impressed with himself, or his offers.

"You can't have a big head," he said. "You've always got to keep that fire, strive for the best. With these offers, it's like I've got an expectation to live up to."



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