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Cats’ Crossley leaves them smiling

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Naples News

Cats’ Crossley leaves them smiling

It’s hard to miss the Firecats’ bruising fullback, who makes his YMCA campers grin, but the af2 opposition cringe

By Scott Hotard

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Germain Arena is Clenton Crossley’s sandlot, a 50-yard strip of mayhem with no room for running away.

It’s some fun.

Even if you can’t see the twinkle in his eyes — Crossley wears a tinted visor above his facemask — it’s not hard for rival players to figure that the big kid’s enjoying himself.

He tells them.

You can’t block me.

Can’t touch me.

I’m coming right at ya.

Crossley plays both sides of the ball for the Florida Firecats — fullback is his primary position, but he also sees time as a linebacker — which makes it twice as difficult for opponents to avoid him.

Or his mouth.

“I might say anything out there,” Crossley said. “Sometimes guys will start acting crazy. I start laughing at them just to get to them. It rattles some people ... a lot. Especially when we start winning.”

Maybe that’s why Crossley can’t keep quiet. The Firecats are 7-2 this season, one-half game behind Memphis in the South Division standings.

And Crossley’s on a roll.

Entering Saturday’s home game against Macon, Florida’s hard-charging, bull-shooting rookie has the best numbers of any ball carrier in af2. He leads the league in carries (52) and yards (222) and is tied for the top spot in rushing touchdowns (12).

A surprise?

Probably not.

Crossley might not resemble Atlanta Falcons scatback Warrick Dunn, but then again, the arena game is no place for scatbacks. Indoor playing fields are tight quarters — 50 yards long, 85 feet wide — so there’s little time for shaking and baking.

Crossley, a 5-foot-11, 245-pound bruiser that left South Florida as the school’s second all-time leading rusher, fits right in. He runs straight ahead and, for a man his size, possesses tremendous balance. Defenders who try to tackle him often carom right off.

“I expect them to hit me low,” Crossley said, “so I figure I’ll just run them over.”

He must command a presence, after all, if he’s going to be noticed. When Crossley carried 12 times in Florida’s May 6 victory against Tennessee Valley, it matched the franchise record. Arena teams, in general, use the running game like Tabasco sauce: sprinkle a little in to add some flavor.

Yet the Firecats are something of an oddball. They have developed a reputation for balance — relatively speaking — a legacy due in large part to Steve Gorrie. He led af2 in rushing the last two seasons, but a neck injury kept him from returning this year.

“It’s fun when you’ve got a guy like that,” Florida offensive coordinator Ken Mastrole said of Crossley. “He’s a little different from Steve Gorrie, who might have had a little more speed. Clenton just bounces off people — like a bowling ball.”

Always has, really.

Crossley, 25, realized he had a gift long ago, even before enrolling in South Sumter High and earning all-state honors at running back and linebacker. The youngster’s talents, though, could not be confined to a single sport. He had collected 18 varsity letters by the time he left the Bushnell school, juggling football, baseball, basketball, track and weightlifting.

Good thing he stayed so busy. Were Crossley not on the run so much, the future USF star might have found an obstacle he couldn’t trample.

Clenton’s father, Stanley Crossley, gave the player his nickname — “Boobie” — when he was an infant, but that’s about all he ever gave him. Clenton can’t even tell you what his dad looks like. The man was out of his world before the kid’s first birthday, creating a hole in his childhood no pulling guard could replicate.

But Clenton always had a role model in the house. James Campbell has been with the player’s mother, Odessa Campbell, for most of Clenton’s life, so Crossley didn’t lose much ground.

And he never frowned.

Crossley could tell you he used football as an outlet for personal struggle — that he made defenders pay for Stanley’s absence — but he’s never been much for telling lies.

He enjoyed athletics, quite simply, because he excelled in them. Whether it was stealing a base or scoring a touchdown, Crossley always felt right at home.

Now he pays it forward.

When he isn’t banging heads with af2’s finest, Crossley can be found teaching youngsters the value of sportsmanship. He is one of five Firecats who serve as camp counselors at the YMCA, working the job every weekday from 8 to 5:30.

“Some kids are so happy when I pull up,” he said, “that they’re waiting at the gate and waving.”

Crossley smiles, too.

He’s got a knack for that.

Knights at Firecats

What: Macon Knights (4-6) at Florida Firecats (7-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Germain Arena

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Nice story...I enjoyed watching Clenton playing for the Bulls.

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