ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s Izaan Cross is in a great position.
The Yellow Jackets’ starting defensive end, and Flowery Branch High grad, knows that a great senior season in 2012 will likely translate into a chance of playing in the NFL after his standout career ends.
Having started 28 games, including 13 in each of the last two seasons in Georgia Tech’s 3-4 scheme, he’ll be the Jackets’ main guy on the line this season, and is also projected as one of the best in the ACC at his position.
“I’ve seen other guys go through the process of getting scouted,” Cross said Friday following the spring game in Atlanta. “I know they’re going to look at every single play and the numbers I put up on the field.
“The numbers don’t lie.”
Cross has big responsibilities this season for Georgia Tech. Gone are 2011 starters at tackle in Logan Walls, a Dawson County High grad, and Jason Peters on the end. However, he’ll have plenty of help in the middle with 340-pound senior T.J. Barnes anchoring the line at nose tackle.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson thinks enough of Cross’ abilities to play him both inside and outside on the defensive line, as evidenced by the spring game.
Whether he’ll play both slots in the regular season is still to be determined, but he’ll certainly be a fixture on the line every Saturday.
“Izaan’s dropped some weight since last season and made some good plays out there tonight (in the spring game),” Johnson said of Cross, who cut his weight down about 20 pounds to 280 since last fall.
Now, Cross knows the ball is in his court to take advantage of this opportunity to shine as a senior at Tech. The program has a history of recent defensive linemen that have made the jump to the NFL, most notably Derrick Morgan, a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans just two years ago.
For Cross, everything about his senior is about putting up the best stats to show scouts. The biggest number he’d like to increase is in sacks, where he had just two in 2011.
“I’d love to have more sacks this season,” Cross said.
However, his numbers have been quite steady in the run-stopping category. Cross has topped 30 tackles in each of the past two seasons, including a season-high five tackles against Virginia last season.
Georgia Tech’s returning defensive end is eager to test how his offseason conditioning and weight loss will help in the fall. He says the weight loss was a result of extensive conditioning under the eye of defensive line coach Andy McCollum to get into the best playing shape of his life. Throughout spring practice, Cross could already tell a difference in terms of his stamina on the field.
“It’s a lot less stress on my body now that I weigh less,” Cross said. “I think it’s really helped my footwork, too.”
Entering 2012, Cross has more starts under his belt than any other returning Yellow Jacket. He knows with experience comes the expectation to be a leader.
While at the college level that comes with a bit more pressure and scrutiny, it’s not a new role for Cross. He was one of the senior leaders for the Falcons team that advanced to the Class AAA state championship in 2008.
“The transition isn’t really that tough,” Cross said. “Most of the guys on the team, I’ve grown up with them.
“I’m just trying to lead by the example that I set.”
The Yellow Jackets also have depth to complement Cross at the defensive end spot. Back in 2012 are juniors Chris Crenshaw, Euclid Cummings and Emmanuel Dieke, who played in a combined 34 games last season.
Georgia Tech opens the season at Virginia Tech on Sept. 3 on ESPN.