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Don’t ever think you can’t

We’re eight days away from Super Bowl LIII (that’s ‘53’ for those of you who don’t speak Roman!) and a friend of mine left a great Facebook post earlier this past week.

Who’d have thought, he opined, that two kids people witnessed play high school football at a pair of eastern North Carolina 1A schools (actually, one was a 2A) just seven short years ago are getting ready to go at each other on the biggest stage the game has ever had.

Pondering that, I now hope New England Patriots cornerback Keion Crossen gets a chance to line up across the field from Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta next Sunday. If and when they do, it’ll be Northampton County High against Tarboro; the respective prep programs both men played for.

One was an all-conference sure-fire top pick from a Power-Five program. The other, a final-round selection from an FCS school who had to sweat out the last cutdown just to secure a roster spot. But that spot came with one of the NFL’s most prestigious teams. By the way, both players were also conference track champions while in college.

One plays in the soothing warmth of Southern California while his counterpart plays in the frozen tundra of the American Northeast.

Neither, to my knowledge, came from privilege. One is from a modest lower-middle class background; the other from a small two-bedroom home where as a youngster he sometimes had no shoes to wear.

One is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year playing on a guaranteed 45-million-dollar contract, the other plays for a rookie minimum of less than $500,000, but that still averages out to $40,000 a week.

One player amassed 1,831 yards of total offense for their pro team while the other played only 39 defensive snaps in the regular season all year.

In their conference championship games, one was only available for less than 10 plays, had just three rushing yards and three more receiving. The other made a great tackle on a kickoff, even though he later surrendered a long gain to an All-Pro receiver that almost became a score. It was that receiver’s only catch of the game. To hold a player who’d burned them for 142 receiving yards in an earlier game to just one catch last Sunday was impressive.

It was especially impressive to see Crossen out on the field other than on special teams. But after the game he credited Patriots coach Bill Belichick for helping him to get to the point he’s become as a player.

“Just taking it in, like coach Bill says, game by game,” Crossen told reporters after the win. “When you get in these environments, you’re not considered a rookie. There is no home field advantage. You’ve got to go play. He trained us well every day for those moments and you’ve just got to take advantage of it when you get them.”

Crossen’s title game performance may have been the most productive of his young career. Gurley’s? … maybe the least productive since he came into the league.

Before the game even started, the Patriots coaching staff put together a game plan that no one expected. It shows they had faith in #35; and with his speed, Crossen (4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash) represents one of the fastest corners on the Patriots, maybe in all the National Football League.

Gurley shares a birthday with New England quarterback Tom Brady (Aug. 3). Gurley is 24; I don’t know how old the GOAT (greatest-of-all-time) is. That’s probably not relevant, but I just wanted to throw that bit of trivia in.

Crossen doesn’t get down on himself. His support system? … his veteran teammates.

“I think all those guys, they had my back,” Crossen said. “We played as a team. It’s a great win and now it’s on to the Rams.”

Next Sunday, get your nachos, guacamole dip, and favorite beverage ready. With these two Carolina boys duking it out, it could be a heckuva ride.

Here we go!

 

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.