LAS VEGAS (AP) — Maxx Crosby wasn’t popular in high school, struggled with his focus while in college at Eastern Michigan and checked himself into rehab for alcoholism after a disappointing rookie season with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Now, in his third year, it’s all coming together for the 24-year-old defensive end.
“I’ve been through a lot ever since I was young. I was always fighting and searching for something that wasn’t there necessarily,” Crosby told The Associated Press in an interview.
His numbers show he’s come a long way. Crosby leads the NFL with 17 quarterback knockdowns, is seventh with 25 quarterback hits, and is tied for 10th with 36 quarterback pressures.
Pro Football Focus grades Crosby as the second-best pass rusher in the league behind Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and ranks him second overall among edge rushers. He was named to his first Pro Bowl this week.
“He truly is an example of when you give with no intent to receive it comes back twofold,” Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “I think what’s most impressive about him, he just consistently gives to this team, to his group, to our unit.”
Not bad for a fourth-round draft pick who wasn’t a standout athlete as a kid in Colleyville, Texas — population roughly 27,000 — and longed for acceptance because he wasn’t, in his words, “the handsome dude.”
“I always chased that. I struggled with that as a kid,” Crosby said.
His previous struggles with mental health and alcohol abuse have helped put his recent success in perspective.
“This business is brutal,” he said. “If you get too confident, too high or too low, those are bad things. My main thing is just staying focused on a day-to-day process and continuing to build on that every week.”
Crosby acknowledged he’s taken his game to a new level, but the excitement he got the first time he sacked Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes has faded. He no longer dwells on a big play or a big game.
“I’m always trying to reach new heights and new goals,” he said.
Crosby said he’s always believed he was capable of doing great things on the field and in life. But at Eastern Michigan, he wasn’t sure how he would achieve those goals.
It was there he met the person he said has been the greatest coach he could have asked for, on and off the field — his girlfriend, Rachel Washburn.
“I had some struggles early on when I was in college, I was partying a lot, doing my thing, and I just was lost — she helped me revive my whole life,” Crosby said. “Just her mental side of things, she always was building me up. She helped me so much because I was lost. She got me through a lot. She helped me elevate a lot of ways.”
Washburn played soccer at Eastern Michigan and understood the demands placed on a Division I athlete. She helped him with his meal plans and reminded him of his long-term goals.
Eventually, in 2019 after his rookie season, she stood by him when he checked himself into rehab for alcoholism. With clarity off the field, and following a pedestrian second season, Crosby went back to work and is having a breakout year.
“My mental health is probably the highest it’s been since I’ve been alive,” he said. “Once I came to peace with my situation, I just continued to work. It all comes down to my work ethic and my peace. I’m constantly working at what I love, and that’s football and the people around me. I’m constantly working on my relationships and my craft 24/7. So that gives me peace. Right now I’m in a really good place. There’s always room for improvement. But I’m blessed. I know that.
“I always want to carry myself in high regard and just be somebody kids want to look up to and want to be like, that’s the kind of guy I am. I’m gonna do anything I can to get to the best version of myself, and as time goes and more work gets put in and more cool things start to happen — that’s just kind of how it is.”