Maxx Crosby exited the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 15, fresh off a down-to-the-wire loss to Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl. Crosby hung up his Eastern Michigan gear and left Montgomery contemplating a life-changing decision.
Two days later, the two-time First Team All-MAC selection made it known: he was NFL Draft-bound.
While college players of his caliber declaring for the Draft is commonplace, the road Crosby traversed to get to that point last December was anything but ordinary. The journey for began in Colleyville, TX, a suburb about 30 miles northwest of Dallas.
Crosby attended Colleyville Heritage High School. Off the field, he starred as a member of a rap group he created with friends, where he won a “best musician” award. On it, he was a linebacker for the Panthers’ football team. Entering his junior year, college football seemed to be more of an afterthought than a certainty.
The Crosby family had sent one of its own to the FBS ranks just one year prior when Maxx’s older brother and up-and-coming fashion model, Myles Crosby, signed with SMU to play safety. But several changes were implemented that allowed Maxx’s football career to gain the runway it needed to fly.
“Going into my senior year, we got a brand new coaching staff so we had new coaches come in. I had a big growth spurt and I grew like three inches so I was almost 6’5”,” Maxx Crosby said. “Clearly, I wasn’t going to play middle linebacker anymore, so they wanted me to play defensive end and tight end and they moved me right away, and I haven’t looked back since. Having more size helped me out, let me grow into my body and figured out defensive end was the best position for me.”
While getting acquainted with a new role on defense during spring ball, Crosby — who lived in Michigan during his early childhood — established a connection which brought him back to his old stomping grounds.
“I was out there running around, trying to learn the position as fast as I can and one of the Eastern Michigan coaches came up there — Coach (Brad) McCaslin (former EMU defensive coordinator). He was out there doing his rounds in Texas and we started talking and communicating, and he gave me his card and number. He invited me up to a camp at Eastern. For me, I have so much family still in Michigan and they were the only D1 team showing me a bunch of interest.”
Following a favorable growth spurt and the position change, Crosby showed growth on the football field during his senior year at Colleyville Heritage, furthering McCaslin’s enthusiasm in the Texas prospect. Right after attending the camp in Ypsilanti, Crosby received an offer from Eastern Michigan. Not a single other FBS offer flew Crosby’s way, so he would venture across the country to play college ball at the one school that expressed interest.
When Crosby arrived at Eastern Michigan in 2015, the team was fresh off its third-consecutive 2-10 season. The Eagles were in the bottom of the FBS’s cellar, having failed to qualify for a bowl game since 1987 and sporting just six winning seasons in the previous 40 years. A new young head coach in Chris Creighton envisioned a culture change and better direction for the perennial doormat, but the team still fared 1-11 while Crosby sat out due to a redshirt in 2015.
“A part of the thing that attracted me to going to Eastern was they were rebuilding the program,” Crosby said. “They had a brand new coaching staff and they were trying to bring it from the bottom all the way to the top. I looked at it as an opportunity to go in there and be a key piece of a program that’s rebuilding at the Division I level. Our freshman class was a huge part of that. We were 1-11 and super proud of turning the program around.”
One year later, Crosby entered the equation and Eastern Michigan rebranded itself. The Eagles finished 2016 with their first winning record since 1995, snapping a 29-year bowl drought with a 7-6 record and an invitation to the Bahamas Bowl. Crosby recorded 35 tackles and 1.5 sacks in a season where he saw action as a reserve defensive end.
His initial season was behind him and Eastern Michigan lost a key defensive end in Pat O’Connor to the NFL Draft (seventh round pick to the Lions in 2017). That offseason, Crosby encountered a realization similar to the one he experienced just three seasons prior, the last time he was promoted to a starting defensive end position: Football at the next level was a reality.
“I’ve always dreamed about playing in the NFL. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a child,” Crosby said. “Honestly, it became a lot more realistic my redshirt sophomore year. Going into that year, I knew I was gonna be a starter and was super excited for that challenge. We had Pat O’Connor the year before, he went to the NFL, and it was my time to step up and take his spot.”
O’Connor was a transcendent player at Eastern Michigan. One of the most dominant pass rushers in the nation, O’Connor finished his final two years in Ypsilanti with a combined 16 sacks and 29 tackles for loss. With his departure, uncertainty loomed whether the Eagles could feasibly replace such a talented cornerstone. That uncertainty only fueled Crosby when stepping into the starting role.
Crosby’s career erupted from there. Over the next two seasons, he wreaked havoc in backfields and against opposing offensive lines. He tallied 18.5 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss, 127 total tackles, and forced eight fumbles over two seasons. In both 2017 and 2018, Crosby was recognized and rewarded for his efforts with First Team All-MAC appearances. Eastern Michigan retained its winning culture and Crosby finished another season 7-6 and bowl bound with the Eagles.
Transitioning from high school to the FBS level is one thing, but where did the NFL-caliber Maxx Crosby stem from? He attributes his rapid ascension to learning on scout team freshman year.
“It was my second year ever playing the position, so I got a full year to learn under Pat (O’Connor) and Jeremiah (Harris),” Crosby said. “I just got to go out there and try out different things and see what I’m good at. It ended up leading me to getting Scout Team Player of the Year, which is my most proud award I’ve ever gotten. It was hard to earn it, and that was the start for me.”
This offseason has been scout team all over again for Crosby. He situated himself at EXOS training facility in Phoenix to train for the NFL Combine and Pro Day, while continuing to develop skills as a defensive end. At the Combine in Indianapolis, Crosby ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, recorded a 36-inch vertical jump, and finished with the fastest 60-yard shuttle of all EDGE rushers.
“I thought the Combine went really well. I felt like I tested really well. When it came to the drills, I felt like I could have cleaned up a few things,” Crosby said. “You were busy from 5 am to all the way until midnight the same day, so you’re just constantly doing things, but it was a dream come true and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Crosby’s been noted by scouts for his strong, aggressive play style which includes the ability to create fumbles and fight past linemen with dip and swim moves. An off-the-field skill Crosby has mastered since his high school days is his unwavering confidence. Without his strong belief in his abilities, he may not have transformed his lone D1 offer into an NFL Combine invite.
“Obviously, I’m super confident in myself and believe in my abilities to the fullest. I just feel like, mentally, my will to win is unmatched,” Crosby said. “I feel like I bring so much to the table, more than just pass rushing. I can take the ball away consistently, I constantly play in the backfield, and I get to the quarterback very well. I just have to do what I know how to do and give the best impression to these teams.”
From a high school linebacker to one Division I offer, a next chapter in Crosby’s journey seems destined to be written by the end of the 2019 NFL Draft. From height changes to position changes to different levels of football, the Texas-native kept his focus simple and unchanged — hard work and self-belief.