Shouldering the load
Cross shining for Mavs after missing junior season with right shoulder injury
Marcus Cross stood on the sideline last fall, aching to play.
His right shoulder, though, didn’t make that possible. A torn labrum cost him his junior season on the Colorado Mesa football team, but after surgery and rehab, the senior linebacker from Colorado Springs is making up for lost time.
“You never realize how much you love something until it’s taken from you,” said Cross, a muscular 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback’s nightmare who led the Mavericks in tackles in 2014. “I went through a dark time with that surgery. I’d never had a season-ending injury, ever.
“Not being able to play and watching my guys succeed and not feeling a part of it, but knowing I was still part of it … it’s so much better to be able to go out there and hit somebody.”
Cross had several opinions on whether he should have his shoulder surgically repaired, and finally decided it had to be done. Linebackers need sound shoulders, but Cross looked beyond that.
“I had to make the call for myself to say, ‘Hey, I’m not playing this year.’ I did that based on the bigger picture, life after football,” he said.
“I want to throw the ball to my kids when I’m (older). It was a tough choice, but I think it was the right choice, because my recovery has been great.”
He was limited last spring, not allowed to participate in full-contact drills, but was turned loose this fall. Because he’d never really been injured before, he was a little hesitant.
“It was still kind of scary, because not-normal movements kind of hurt a little bit, so when we came out and had the first pad practice in the fall, that’s when I was a little timid,” he said. “Then I realized this doesn’t hurt, I’m fine.”
Timid is not a word that’s ever been associated with Cross. He started every game as a sophomore, made 81 tackles, 5½ quarterback sacks and 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, an average of 4 yards per tackle. He forced one fumble and intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Before this season, CMU coach Russ Martin noted how valuable Cross was to the Mavericks’ defense with his ability to rush the passer, defend the run and cover receivers.
Three games into the season, Cross is feeling like himself again. He admitted to having way too much nervous energy before the season opener at Western State, and said after the game he was rusty. His “rusty” game netted nine total tackles, which led the team, including one behind the line of scrimmage.
“Oh, geez,” he said Tuesday with a grin. “The first week out I was beyond nervous. I felt nauseous. I was excited but nervous at the same time. It took a toll on me; I was too excited for that game. I’ve toned it down a lot lately. I wasn’t as shaky going into Mines. I was more excited to play rather than nervous.”
Last Saturday was the first time Cross has walked off the field after being part of a victory against Colorado School of Mines. He was part of the defense that chased quarterback Justin Dvorak all over the field. The Mavericks sacked him three times and hurried him four times.
“It was exhausting physically and mentally, emotionally. I was up and down that whole time,” Cross said. “It’s my last year, so there was no, well, if we don’t get them this year we can get them next year. We had to get the job done. That kind of helped us push through (the double-overtime game).
“I was extremely tired after they scored that last touchdown and I’m thinking, ‘Man, we have to go right back out there.’ Luckily, Dustin (Rivas) blocked that (extra-point kick) and now I can relax.”
He also vividly remembers what happened the last time he was on the field against Fort Lewis, this week’s opponent. At Stocker Stadium, the Mavericks got down 28-7, rallied for 13 points in the fourth quarter but lost 28-20.
Soon after the postgame celebration ended last week, Cross started mentally preparing for the Skyhawks. Just like he did when deciding about surgery, he sees the big picture.
“After the game for me, I was like, OK, we cannot drop the ball this week. I know Fort Lewis. They’re dogs, they’re going to give it their all,” Cross said. “We cannot afford to be lackadaisical at all. The best thing about our defense is we’re all older, we’ve all faced them and we know that hey, this is not a week we can take off.”
Big picture: Every game counts. Every game is the big game. Pats on the back aside, the Mavericks have a long way to go to reach their goal.
“We didn’t win the (RMAC) championship yet,” Cross said. “We won a nice little cup, but we want a ring. Eight games left? We’ve got a long way to go. I don’t want to split the conference championship. I want to win it outright.”