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Cross leads Flowery Branch on and off the field

POSTED: November 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.
By Sara Guevara/The Times

Flowery Branch's Izaan Cross, center, works on technique during practice Monday at Flowery Branch High.

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Sometimes there’s a stark contrast between the player who takes the field on a Friday night and the person he is off it.

Flowery Branch’s Izaan Cross is a heralded Division-I college recruit because of his unbridled prowess at defensive end on a Falcons defense that’s giving up 11 points per game. He’s leads the team in sacks and is among the area’s leaders in tackles for loss.

But the senior is a team captain because of who he is without the pads.

“He’s got a big heart,” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. “He cares for his teammates.

“But on the field he will flip a switch and be a different guy.”

On the field, he’s kind of guy who hunts quarterbacks and views the line of scrimmage as too much progress for opposing running backs.

“It’s the mentality that you’re fighting for your food out there on the football field,” Cross said. “If you don’t take your spotlight, someone else is going to dominate you on the field, and I try to do that to opposing players.”

Cross’ mentality filters down to the other 10 on the defense, as evidenced by the fact that neither Cross nor his fellow defensive end and spotlight-grabbing Georgia Tech verbal commit Daniel Drummond are the leading tacklers.

Strong safety Greg Palmer and linebacker Cory Sanderson statistically lead a balanced Falcons’ defense.

“They (the defense) just play so well together as a group,” Shaw said. “Everybody knows their fit.

“We’ve got guys that can make plays. We aren’t big on calling names, we just talk about our defense as a unit, and that’s our mentality around here.”

It’s a team-first mentality fostered on the practice field by defensive coordinator Chris Griffin, who punishes his unit as a whole for one person’s mistakes and has them yell collectively after successes.

“It’s a team effort,” Drummond said. “Everything we do is together. We play 11 like one on the field.”

“Coach Griffin does a great job,” Cross said. “You see him every time we mess up, we do up-downs as a team, and it’s because this is the ultimate team sport.

“Everybody has to click on all cylinders for a defense especially to be good. One person can’t mess up or it will blow the whole thing open and someone will be running for a touchdown.”

“Coach Griffin pushes us like no coach I’ve seen,” Palmer said. “He puts it on us, he puts a lot of pressure on us, and when we go out in games and start performing well, that’s why.”

At the center of it all, however, is Cross, who Palmer refers to as “the motivator.”

“In practice (Monday) we weren’t doing good so he stepped up and made five tackles in a row,” Palmer said. “That just gets everybody fired up.”

As instrumental as Griffin is to the defense’s success, he can’t be in the huddle, nor does he line up against the opposition. Therefore, Cross fills in for him on the field.

“He’s that bell cow,” Shaw said. “He’s the kind of guy that can rally them faster than a coach can.

“They’ll listen to him and whenever he gets wound up, whenever he starts getting vocal, whenever he gets fired up, it just becomes a frenzy on our defense.

“That’s why he’s a special player.”

Cross first caught Shaw’s attention while playing for Davis Middle School.

“We knew we had something special,” Shaw said. “And we knew we could build a lot around him.”
Shaw’s plans would have to wait, however, as Cross spent his first two years of high school at Buford, a move brought about by his mother taking a job in the district.

“After two years she stopped working there so we came back (to Flowery Branch),” Cross said. “It was convenient for us because we still lived in this district and I know everybody here, so it was a perfect move for me.”

In 2007, his first year at defensive end for Flowery Branch, Cross was second on the team with four sacks and nine quarterback hurries, and fourth on the team with 77 tackles, seven for a loss.

His numbers for the season, along with his 6-foot-4, 250-pound build, garnered attention from colleges across the southeast.

According to Shaw, the recruiting process has been non-stop for Cross and, at its peak, Shaw and Cross were being contacted on a daily basis.

Following suit with the team mentality instilled in him, however, Cross hasn’t let the attention get to his head.

“He wants to enjoy the recruiting process,” Shaw said. “He’s one of those kids that it hasn’t affected him on Friday night. It’s Flowery Branch football first.”

“It’s fun,” Cross said of the recruiting process, “but it’s taken a backseat especially with this season getting closer to the playoffs.

“But I do still think about it.”

Among the teams in Cross’s thoughts are Georgia Tech, Arkansas, North Carolina, Clemson and North Carolina State.

“I wouldn’t say top five, but that’s who I’m thinking about the most and who I get the most calls from.”
Cross is detailed when it comes to what he’s looking for in a school, and in what order those qualities fall.

First, academics, followed by the depth chart of the football team, the coaching staff and how they correspond with his parents, what his parents think of a particular institution and, finally, the student body.

“If something were to happen to me I want to be somewhere where I’d still enjoy myself,” Cross said.
While fleeting thoughts of a college career and the impending decision he’ll have to make in the coming months are in the back of his mind, at the forefront is Friday night when his Falcons take on Gainesville for the program’s first Region 7-AAA championship.

“We have a chance to make school history,” Cross said.

A chance made more likely because of Cross.

“Players like (Cross) make you really good,” Shaw said. “A player like that can increase the play of everyone around him. Even if they don’t have his kind of ability, he brings it up, he brings their level up.

“That’s what he is, that’s why he’s a captain, that’s why he’s a team leader — he’s our anchor.”


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