- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Roscoe Crosby, Shaun Cody, Kevin Jones, Joe Mauer, Reggie Williams, Ahmad Carroll and others converged upon Chicago in 2001 like Greek gods visiting Olympus. They were high school seniors assembled as Reebok All-Americans; big-time players with big plans.
"We had a great time," Crosby reflected. "Everybody was talking about what they were going to do. I think I'm the kind of athlete that could do both. I know I'm confident in my ability."
While most decided to play college football, Mauer had baseball on his mind signing with the Minnesota Twins to play catcher. Crosby, though, shot for the stars. He wanted football and baseball. And why not? High-school recruiting expert Tom Lemming rated Crosby a top-10 college prospect at wide receiver. Baseball America ranked him as a top-10 prospect in the baseball draft as a center fielder.
Crosby had signed a football letter of intent to Clemson and went on to play as a true freshman in the fall of 2001. He also was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the MLB draft and received a $1.75 million signing bonus.
Four years later, Crosby wonders what happened. Mauer is a burgeoning baseball star in Minnesota. Jones, Williams and Carroll were first-round NFL draft choices last year. And Crosby? He's a washout baseball prospect hoping to get a shot with an NFL franchise.
"I dreamed of playing two sports," Crosby said. "It led to me being out of both sports."
But Crosby's story isn't one of burnout or abuse. His pro sports dreams were derailed by injury and tragedy. In a little more than two years, Crosby lost three friends in a car accident, had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and lost his brother in a drowning accident.
Yet, Crosby doesn't see his story as one big tragedy. Nor does he see his playing days as finished. He has applied for entry into the NFL supplemental draft and is working out feverishly for the July 14 event. While he awaits formal approval, Crosby works on his gifted body. Though he's played in just one contest the past three years, Crosby projects first-round type numbers, although he realizes he'll be fortunate to get selected in the sixth or seventh round given his time away from the game.
Crosby's first few months away from high school were very promising. The Royals signed him knowing he was going to play at Clemson that fall. Crosby was so talented he landed one of the best baseball agents at the time, Jeff Moorad. The year was magical. All the Royals asked him to do that summer was report to an instructional league and hone his skills. After two weeks of techniques, he was off to fall practice at Clemson.
His freshman season was supposed to be an appetizer to fans. Crosby, slowed down by a broken nose and sprained knee in the first half of the season, caught 27 passes for 465 yards and four touchdowns. In Clemson's running offense, those are phenomenal numbers, but Crosby averaged almost 80 catches and 1,575 yards a season in his final two years in high school. He felt he hadn't done enough. And unfortunately for him and the program, he wasn't able to do more.
In high school, Crosby hurt his right elbow playing baseball and the injury was severe enough that he knew surgery was inevitable. Elbow injuries sometimes mean little to wide receivers. However, they are everything to a five-tool center fielder drafted in the second round by the Royals.
"Every major league team knew about the elbow," Crosby said. "I had a partial tear in high school, and I knew I was going to have surgery if I was going to play baseball. Still, the Royals made me a second-round pick."
In June of 2002, Crosby finally had elbow surgery. Doctors reconstructed the elbow but couldn't put his career back together. He missed the 2002 baseball and football seasons. But even before being sidelined because of injury, Crosby had been dealing with bad news.
Earlier in the year, five of his childhood friends from South Carolina decided to drive down to Florida and watch him play spring ball. They never made it. According to The Sports Xchange, the driver lost control of the vehicle near Hinesville, Ga., resulting in an accident. The driver and two of the passengers died at the scene.
The following year, his brother, Nathaniel Hill, disappeared while swimming at a lake in South Carolina. Divers found his body three days later.
"He had a lot of external and tragic events," said attorney David Cornwell, who represented Crosby in an arbitration process he had with the Royals over the division of his time among baseball, football and the classroom.
Unable to play in 2002, Crosby had too much time to think, too much time to reflect. Hitting the books became that much more difficult. He fell behind in classes at Clemson. At the age of 20, his two-sport dream had become a nightmare, and he was at a crossroads, trying to figure out what was next.
Deep down, he wanted football the most. But he had signed a contract with the Royals. The contract was simple. It asked him to show up. In 2003, he showed up, but his people were working on making him eligible for the 2003 fall Clemson season. That apparently didn't sit well with the Royals.
"By the end of 2002, I got back physically to where I could play both sports," Crosby said. "At that time, I had been through friends that passed. I needed time to breathe. Losing my friends was a lot. Being away from sports was tough. During rehab, I had a lot of time to think."
Crosby showed up in Royals camp in 2003 and did well in drills. To keep his football dream alive, though, he had to attend summer school to get the credits to play. The relationship with the Royals began to sour.
The Royals didn't want to pay him the $750,000 remainder of his $1.75 million signing bonus. They also wanted to stop paying his college tuition.
"I thought I was doing everything right," Crosby said. "I was doing great in camp, but we were working on the hardship to get back to football. I still didn't want to give up football. They decided they didn't want me to play in games, they just wanted me to hone my skills."
Crosby filed for arbitration.
"I thought that would last three months," Crosby said. "It ended up going until February of 2005."
In the meantime, Crosby had to move back home to take care of his mother and grandmother in Forest City, N.C. Gone was the football field. Gone was the baseball field. His game was in an arbitration court, and this time he lost.
"It's terrible when your jury is your adversary," Cornwell said of the baseball arbitration process in which MLB handles these types of grievances. "It was clear when the Royals signed him that they believed they were trying to recruit him away from football. The death of his friends put him behind academically. But he is a guy who wanted to be a two-sport athlete. I would say in 20 years of being a lawyer on both sides, he is one of the top five guys as far as a person I've been around. He's gone through a lot as a person."
Crosby wasn't going to give up. Since November, he has been working out twice a day, readying himself for the NFL. He's had the support of his agent, Kevin Parker, and his friend and adviser Larry Geiger.
He's hoping to remind NFL scouts of his raw skills; remind folks of the success that he had at Clemson and the fact he was rated ahead of Williams and Larry Fitzgerald coming out of high school. He showed up at Clemson's Pro Day in March and put up 4.4 numbers in the 40. He still had the skills.
On June 10 at a high school in Columbia, S.C., Crosby ran between 4.41 and 4.45 in his 40-yard dashes. He checked in at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds. He has 31½-inch arms and 9½-inch hands. He pumped 225 pounds 18 times in the bench press, uncommon strength for a wide receiver. Shaun King, an experienced NFL quarterback, threw him the football, and Crosby ran all the routes. And, unlike some former baseball players who usually find themselves pursuing the NFL at 25 or older, Crosby is only 22.
"I now feel like I am so strong, I can handle stuff better than the average 22-year-old," Crosby said. "I wouldn't change a thing. The toughest thing has been being out of sports."
On July 14, Crosby, the two-sport athlete with a dream, just wants to convince one NFL team to take a chance. If one does, he'll have plenty to talk about with Jones, Williams, Carroll and some other friends.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Roscoe Crosby, a former big-time prospect who's overcome tragedy and injury, is still pursuing an NFL career.