Crosby enjoys whirlwind rush to prominence
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: November 17, 1995
One image from Kelly Crosby's whirlwind junior season is guaranteed to bring a smile. In the midst of Wheaton Warrenville South's 28-7 Class 6A playoff-opening win over St. Charles, fullback Crosby and junior tailback Bill Gerlesits stood on the Tigers' sideline, not only beside each other, but beside themselves.
Crosby would run for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns in the victory, while Gerlesits accumulated 100 yards and one score. Picture the two practically pinching each other as Gerlesits turns to his classmate and says:
"Did you ever think me and you would be the starting running backs this year?"
Gerlesits, who leads the Tigers into Saturday's semifinal against York with 628 yards on 109 carries, probably could have eliminated himself from that question.
He is the more instinctive runner, and had started the season with 30 yards and a 2-point run against Glenbard West.
The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Crosby - a freshman 'B' team safety and 'C' team running back, and then a sophomore 'B' team back - started the season on the JV squad.
"I had assumed I might be able to start next year," Crosby said. "We were set in the backfield. I didn't think I'd change it, but I did."
As the Tigers' starting backs suffered injury and inconsistency, Crosby tore up JV defenses, most times with so-so blocking in front of him. He earned his yardage, and his shot at varsity carries.
"That's what kept hitting us between the eyes," said Tigers coach John Thorne of Crosby's resourceful running, "to the point where we just said, 'We've gotta get him some shots on the varsity level.' "
Glenbard South dropped Crosby for a 7-yard loss on his first varsity carry; he gained 9 yards on 3 carries the next week against Wheaton North, then 1 on 1 versus Glenbard North.
After two weeks of inactivity, Crosby broke out for 75 yards and 3 touchdowns against West Chicago. All the while, he continued to run wild for the JV.
"He really didn't have confidence that he was good at running back," Thorne said. "His confidence came by running in JV games and getting successful. Each week he kept getting more and more confident, and each week we kept having more and more trouble with our senior running backs staying healthy."
Crosby got his first start against state-ranked Naperville North in the regular season finale, where 25 of his 30 yards came on an early touchdown in the Tigers' 27-14 loss.
The Tigers' offensive line is four-fifths juniors and had begun to click near the end of the season.
Thorne abandoned his pass-heavy attack, and since the season's eighth game, his team has averaged nearly double its rushing output of the previous seven weeks.
"Nobody can run if there's not some creases blocked for him," Thorne said. "They were having trouble getting things blocked for a long time, but then again, they would get some blocked, and we had running backs that weren't finding the right crease, so Kelly's been a nice complement to them, and they've been a good complement to him."
Crosby ran for 138 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 2-point run in a second-round win over Palatine, then for 131 yards last week against Glenbrook South. Not only is he chewing up yardage, he's keeping Gerlesits in one piece.
Gerlesits weighs 30 pounds less than Crosby but is the more instinctive runner. Crosby, well, even he admits he's far from a finished product. For one thing, he shuffles his feet.
"I'm kinda pigeon-toed," Crosby said. "Everybody says I run kinda weird, that's what's making me bounce off people. I don't really have any time to change it."
Thorne put Crosby at fullback despite his limited blocking skills. Blocking, Thorne reasoned, you can teach.
"It's hard to find a kid that can make people miss, breaks tackles, runs hard when you need to run hard and slows down, waits for a blocker when you need to do that - a lot of those things are really natural," Thorne said. "He's pretty raw. He's got an awful lot to learn. Nothing that he does naturally makes you look at him and think, 'Here's this great running back.'
"If he'll learn some of it, I think he can improve tremendously between this year and next year."
Crosby and his teammates will worry about the in-betweens later. Right now, they're enjoying the playoffs, especially having advanced farther than a No. 6 seed would be expected.
The experience is all the more sweet for Crosby, who is now playing in front of many more people, fielding questions about football from schoolmates who never seemed to notice him before and fulfilling the promise his father Bill had seen long before the Tigers' coaches did.
Bill knows a little about football, having earned junior college All-America honors at Triton before transferring to Kansas State, where he started at defensive tackle.
"My dad is really proud of me," Kelly said. "Now that I got my chance, he's proud I'm doing well."
Kelly usually heeds Bill's advice, especially this year, but he's got a mind of his own as well. Bill tells Kelly to put the past behind him, but the past holds one of the keys to Kelly's even-keel handling of his sudden fortune.
"I'm not as nervous," Kelly said. "I just go out and pretend it's a normal JV game."
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