It was at Western Carolina University that Keion Crossen went from a skinny high school kid that few people outside of his hometown of Garysburg knew, to developing into a seventh round NFL draft pick that in February added Super Bowl champion to his resume.
As he came down from the stage and onto the floor at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena for the New England Patriots’ portion of the 2019 Super Bowl’s Opening Night, former Western Carolina University defensive back Keion Crossen was all smiles.
“From Garysburg, to Cullowhee, to the Super Bowl. It’s been a journey,” Crossen said. “It’s one that you wouldn’t think would go as planned. I never thought I would be in the Super Bowl.”
Crossen’s ultimate success story began with WCU head football coach Mark Speir braving the snow to travel across the state to Garysburg to make a sales pitch to a scrawny, but speedy, Crossen on why he should come to Cullowhee. It was Speir’s honesty that won Crossen over.
“My decision to come to Western Carolina was solely based on him,” Crossen said. “He was a great guy when he came to talk to me in Garysburg. He drove down there in the snow. That speaks volumes. I really appreciate what he’s done for me and the chance he gave me to play at the Division I level at Western. Now, I guess I’m helping the program a little with recruiting.
“He just showed his genuineness to me,” Crossen added. “His honesty. Most coaches you talk to are like, ‘You’ll come in and start,’ and I’m like, ‘I weigh like 140 pounds. How am I going to start?’ (Speir) told me, ‘If you work hard enough, you’ll get to where you need to be.’ ”
That hard work saw Crossen go from a freshman who had 17 tackles as a player on special teams and a defensive back reserve to a senior starter who registered 67 tackles and seven passes-broken up.
Crossen was both an inspirational and spiritual leader for the players. His teammates definitely listened when he talked.
“He’s an intense guy,” former teammate Hunter Jacobs said. “He’s one of those guys that always brings the best out of you. It doesn’t matter who he’s on the field with, he’s going to compete with you. Keion’s not afraid to tell you like it is. From the day he stepped on campus, he was never afraid to let himself be heard. That’s one of the best things about Keion.”
To this day, Crossen credits Speir for his success as a football player. The two have a bond, one that saw Speir make a point to visit Crossen at his hotel during Super Bowl week in between recruiting visits.
“That’s the type of guy he is,” Crossen said. “He came to the hotel and saw me. He’s a great person at heart. You cannot buy that with any kind of money. He has a great heart, great character.”