Roscoe Crosby's journey back to Death Valley - FOX Carolina 21

Roscoe Crosby's journey back to Death Valley

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Roscoe Crosby stands back atop The Hill in Death Valley. (File/FOX Carolina) Roscoe Crosby stands back atop The Hill in Death Valley. (File/FOX Carolina)
CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Every year around early February, college football programs go for their "can't miss" high school prospects. Guys that are so good, there's no way they could be busts in college.

Before Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins, there was Roscoe Crosby, a former "can't miss" player - who missed.

For years, the question's been why did Crosby miss? 

Crosby's signing day was one of the most anticipated in South Carolina history and he chose Clemson.

Fourteen long years later, Crosby's journey led him back to a familiar place, but as a completely different person.

Crosby's first trip to Clemson

In 2000, Roscoe Crosby stood at the top of a mountain. The Union County High Yellow Jackets' wide receiver won back-to-back state championships. Crosby was also the star center fielder of the baseball team. A stellar hitter, speed demon, and sure-handed fielder.

Crosby was a true five-tool talent. Right out of high school, the Kansas City Royals took him in the second round of the MLB draft despite an elbow injury.

He was also a coveted football recruit as one of the top players in the country.

The two-sport star signed a two-sport deal with the Royals. A five-year contract with a $1.75 million signing bonus. Plus, the Royals paid for Crosby's tuition. Crosby said all he had to do was get his elbow repaired within five years.

The Upstate teen decided he would strap it up in Death Valley playing for the Clemson Tigers.

Barely an adult, he was on top of the world.

"Eighteen years old, it's new to me, it's new for my family," Crosby said. "It's new to people around me because we never had money or stuff like that."

After high school graduation, Crosby hit two weeks of instructional league drills in Florida, and then it was off to Clemson for training camp.

With plenty of hype going in, Crosby blew Tigertown crowds away from the first game.

"When we was coming down the hill, I'm trying to enjoy the fans and everything, but I'm thinking the whole time, I'm actually going to get this football first," Crosby said.

By the end of the season, overcoming inexperience and an injury, Crosby thrived, breaking Clemson's freshman receiving records.

There was no offseason after football for Crosby. It was off to Orlando for minor league camp.

It seemed nothing could stop Crosby's rise. Then, tragedy struck.

Tragedy strikes Crosby

Five friends who were driving one of Crosby's cars to see him play never made it. They crashed his car in Georgia. Three of them died in the crash and two survived.

Then Crosby's elbow gave. Despite joint reconstruction via Tommy John surgery, he missed both football and baseball seasons in 2002.

"The biggest thing for me was I had no outlet," Crosby said. "My outlet became cars or going out to clubs, a lot of foolish stuff. That was my outlet to try and make me feel better."

Then in 2004, Crosby's 15-year old brother, Nathaniel Hill, drowned in a lake in Anderson.

"When I got the news man, my granddad was on the telephone," Crosby said. "And I always knew that phone call - I done been there before."

Grief-stricken, hampered by rehab and responsibility, Crosby fell flat for the first time. But he found trust in his new wide receivers coach, Dabo Swinney.

"This is an 18, 19-year-old kid, young man," Swinney said. "And all of a sudden, he's got a bunch of money and people have lost their lives. He just had a lot of things on him."

Needing money to support his family, Crosby dropped out of Clemson and decided to just play baseball.

Rehabbed and ready to go at Single-A Phoenix the next spring, Crosby got a surprise. Clemson came calling.

Crosby qualified for the school's "hardship waiver." Crosby said his agent gave the green light to revamp the two-sport dream. But again, Crosby hit another stumbling block.

"I told the Royals I'm going to continue to play two sports, that kind of messed things up with those guys," Crosby said. "Because they were like 'we thought you were playing straight baseball.'"

As Crosby was re-enrolling, he got the notice that left him numb for two and a half years.

"I get this letter in the mail saying that I breached my contract," Crosby said. "They wasn't going to pay for my schooling, I wasn't getting the rest of my bonus money and it kind of spun stuff out of control."

Crosby withdrew from Clemson again. He went to arbitration court with the Royals.

Just months after peaking, Crosby began to fall fast.

Getting close to rock bottom

"It got to the point where I actually even thought about real bad things, about not even living," Crosby said. "You know, I had to go talk to a therapist. It was a lot man. There was a lot of stuff that went on, and when it got to that point, that's what made me start thinking about Roscoe the person."

From a millionaire with everything, to a dropout with only questions, Crosby was starting to realize the only way to wake up from his nightmare was to give up his dream.

"The saddest thing for me was when he left and I knew he wasn't going to come back," Swinney said. "Because I didn't know what was going to happen to him. And my heart broke for him - it really did."

Two years after getting drafted by the Royals in baseball's professional draft, Roscoe Crosby was fighting for his major league life. In an arbitration court battle, Crosby said his lawyers told him not to talk to the media. But his silence left questions, and sprouted rumors.

"People didn't actually know the story," Crosby said. "So everybody's looking at it like I just quit baseball, and I quit football… I heard all kinds of stuff - drugs, he can't get over the accident, he lost his mind…"

Back at his grandmother's, all Crosby could do was wait. More than two years later, the court finally decided and sided with the Royals. His contract and college tuition were gone.

"It was tough. Some of my family didn't speak for a year, two years," Crosby said. "Had a real bad falling out over financial issues."

In 2005, he started working out again. Just six months later, with Swinney's help, Crosby caught on with the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad.

But on this upward climb, another falter, and Crosby got cut by the Colts. This time, he decided he was done.

"I had learned the hard side of business," Crosby said. "The game wasn't the same for me anymore. I didn't love it."

Crosby said he was lumped into a group of great athletes from the Upstate who simply couldn't cut it at the next level. He said he was widely viewed as a failure.

"I go through stuff just like other people," Crosby said. "I feel stuff just like other people, but being in a small town in South Carolina, people are like it's football, baseball or nothing for him or his life is over with."

A young man who overcame so much, Crosby had a new mission off the field - to prove his critics wrong.

Two years after he left the Colts and a couple jobs later, Crosby ended up at AMI Kids, a program partnering with the Department of Juvenile Justice, to help teens get back on the right track.

"You get to the point where I can help other young men that's going through a lot of stuff that I went through," Crosby said. "If it took me walking away from sports to become a better person, then I'm fine, and that's what happened."

Crosby's return to Clemson

Fast forward to the end of 2013 and a meeting that changed everything. Crosby, now a youth mentor, sat down with one of his own advisers to discuss another comeback to Death Valley.

"I'm excited about him coming back to Clemson, finishing school and he's still got a lot more to write in his book," Swinney said.

Now, he's back in Clemson classrooms and back at Memorial Stadium, but this time, Crosby's on the sidelines. He's a student-coach with the offense. The former "can't miss" prospect is focusing on molding the newest talented corps of Tigers' wide receivers.

"You don't get trophies for it. You don't get a Heisman for it, but for me, it's that fix for me now," Crosby said. "It used to be touchdowns. It used to be hitting home runs, but I've found my fix."

"I'm proud of him," Swinney said. "I'm proud of where he is now. The type of person he's developed into. The man that he is."

Crosby knows many consider him a failure or a waste of talent, but he said he's not bitter.

"He is who he is, because he's failed at something," Swinney said. "We've all failed at something. But that doesn't mean you're a failure."

"I'm at peace as a man," Crosby said. "I'm happy, and that's the truth."

Roscoe Crosby tumbled from the top of the mountain, but he stands taller than ever, back in Death Valley.

"I'm still a competitor," Crosby said. "I'm still trying to win, but my game that I play now is the game of life. I want to win in the game of life."

Crosby is now a full-time student majoring in management. He said he hasn't gotten recognized on campus as of yet, but interestingly enough, he's living in the same apartment he lived in as a player.

Crosby plans on telling his story to guys like Deshaun Watson, the Tigers new "can't miss" prospect.

And he will be on Clemson's sidelines once again starting this spring.

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