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Photo by Milton Morris
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Photo courtesty of IPTAY Media
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Roscoe Cosby shares his life story with at-risk teens. “Talking about sports helps me get their ear. But when they learn my past, I have a way to their heart.”
Photo by Milton Morris
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"One day I hope they understand that as much as I'm helping them, they're helping me even more."
Photo by Milton Morris
First, the update. Yes, Roscoe Crosby is alive and well.
Crosby rarely grants interviews, and when we meet he immediately introduces himself and throws out the first question.
“Guess you’re wondering what I’ve been up to,” he says.
Truth is, many sports fans have wondered about Roscoe Crosby. There was a time, not long ago, when Crosby was South Carolina’s most celebrated athlete.
As a senior at Union High School in the fall of 2000, Crosby was rated the number-two football receiver in the country. Blessed with a rare combination of speed, strength and size, he was a dazzling wide receiver. In early December of that year, he helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a second consecutive state championship.
A week later, Crosby was crowned South Carolina’s Mr. Football. When asked if he remembers anything about the ceremony, he laughs out loud.
“What!? Of course I remember,” Crosby says incredulously. “I went out that week to buy a new suit to wear. We had won state, so the season was already a success. But I’ll be honest. I wanted that award. I wanted to be the best.”
After football season, Crosby put on his high school baseball uniform. As great as he was catching passes, football was his second-best sport. A sweet-swinging left-hander, Roscoe Crosby could hit a baseball like nobody’s business. Just ask Kevin Floyd, a scout for the Kansas City Royals.
“When I first saw him, I told my boss, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this kid. He may be the perfect baseball player,’” Floyd says.
By the spring of his senior year, major league scouts had Crosby tabbed as one of the top five baseball prospects in the country.
“That was a crazy, crazy time,” Crosby recalls as he thinks back to his last semester of high school. “You’re pulled a million different directions. Do I play football? Take the money and play baseball?”
Crosby decided he could do both. In February 2001, in front of a throng of media, he announced he would play football at Clemson. In June, the Kansas City Royals, undeterred by Crosby’s desire to be a part-time baseball player, drafted him and gave him a signing bonus of $1.7 million.
When a reporter asked Allen Baird of the Kansas City Royals why the team made an investment in a player who was not 100 percent committed to baseball, the general manager shot back with a list of glowing evaluations from his scouting staff. Then he added this about Crosby: “He just makes it look so easy.”
Not so easy
Crosby heard that a lot growing up. His prodigious talents allowed him to skip the awkward years of high school and go straight to small-town star.
Friday night games? Easy. The rest of Roscoe Crosby’s life? No such luck. His dad abandoned the family when Crosby was 2. His mother had her own issues to cope with, so Crosby went to live with his grandmother.
“There would be times I was just mad,” he says. “Why did my dad just leave like that? Why do I have to live with my grandmother?”
Crosby channeled all those emotions and energy into sports. Every time he stepped onto a playing field he felt confident. It was one aspect of his life over which he had complete control.
“All I knew was that sports offered me a way out,” says Crosby. “A way to make it.”
A short stay in Tigertown
The first semester at Clemson gave glimpses of what was to come for Crosby. After four practices, receivers coach Rick Stockstill proclaimed Crosby as “the best I’ve ever seen as a freshman. What he does out there is God-given.”
Crosby had his share of struggles. He arrived on campus a millionaire, and the money set him apart from his teammates, even though he practiced hard and played harder.
“I won’t lie. I wanted to live the good life,” Crosby says. “The money, the fame, the jewelry and cars. I wanted all of it because to me, at that age, I thought those things meant I was successful.”
Crosby played hurt most of his freshman season at Clemson. There was a broken nose, and a sprained knee hampered his speed. Still, he finished the year with four touchdowns and showed enough promise that the Clemson coaching staff expected 2002 to be his breakout season. No one could have known then that Crosby’s college career would never materialize.
After his freshman year at Clemson, Crosby reported to a Florida instructional league to learn the ins and outs of pro ball, but he was lonely and far from home. Five of Crosby’s friends left Union on a road trip to Florida to help prop up the spirits of their friend. They never made it. On a lonely stretch of road near Hinesville, Ga., the driver was killed when he lost control of the car. So were two others. Crosby was devastated. Three of his oldest friends from childhood, the guys he trusted most, were gone.
“I never felt so alone,” he recalls.
Crosby was still grieving when more disappointing news arrived. Doctors discovered a tendon tear in Crosby’s elbow. He would undergo reconstructive surgery, which meant no sports for the rest of 2002. Without the emotional release of athletics, Crosby was left alone to rehabilitate. And think. The more he began to think, the more he wondered if the dreams he was chasing were just a mirage.
In 2003, Crosby’s brother disappeared while swimming in a lake outside Union. Divers found the body three days later. The cascade of tragedy exacted an emotional toll that was almost impossible to push aside.
“I went for the quick fixes to feel better,” Crosby recalls. “I’d buy a car. Go out all night. Stupid things like that. I couldn’t see I was just digging a deeper hole for myself.”
Then there were Crosby’s obligations. By the summer of 2003, the Royals were pushing him to forget football and focus on baseball. When Crosby said he needed the summer off to take classes at Clemson and continue his football eligibility, the relationship went south.
The Royals withheld an installment of Crosby’s bonus money. The team stopped paying his Clemson tuition; legal arbitration dragged on for 24 months.
In August, Crosby returned to Clemson’s football field. A month later, he withdrew from school, citing “family reasons,” and never returned.
“I loved my teammates,” says Crosby. “And [Clemson’s] Coach Swinney was incredible—he was so supportive. But with everything I was dealing with, I didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t play.”
Just two years after he was celebrated as one of the nation’s most talented athletes, Roscoe Crosby disappeared.
The road to recovery
“There were some dark, dark nights,” Crosby recalls about that time when sports were no longer an option. “You feel sorry for yourself. And you’re scared. I mean, who was I supposed to be now?”
Instinctually, Crosby began to fight back. The same competitive spirit that helped him deal with a difficult childhood wouldn’t let him quit. In 2005, he gave sports one more chance. After months of intensive training, he signed on with the Indianapolis Colts, but Crosby soon realized his life needed a new direction.
“I wasn’t at peace with who I wanted to be as a man,” Crosby says. “I felt empty. The pro lifestyle is all about Ferraris, women and money, and I didn’t want that life anymore.”
Crosby moved back to Union County and went to work as a counselor at AMIkids White Pines, a wilderness camp in Jonesville that partners with the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice to steer at-risk kids away from serious trouble.
“I grew up here, so I know exactly what these kids are dealing with,” he says. “Drugs, prostitution and gangs. I tell these guys, ‘You have choices. You don’t have to be a product of your environment.’ ”
As a camp counselor, Crosby organizes physical activities for the youngsters, which includes coaching their undefeated flag football team. He is embracing his new role as a mentor and is on call “24-7” to lend an ear when someone needs to talk. As youngsters come with tough-luck tales of their past, Crosby tells them he can relate.
“They get here and they think they know me,” he says. “But all they know is Roscoe Crosby, the athlete. Talking sports helps me get their ear. But when they learn my past, I have a way to their heart.”
Crosby speaks these words earnestly. He loves his new line of work because in the process of helping others, he’s also healing himself. His past was once his opponent. Now it’s his ally.
“These kids are grateful to have someone really listen to them,” he says. “They let me know how much it means, and that’s great. But one day I hope they understand that as much as I’m helping them, they’re helping me even more.”