- The Washington Times
Monday, March 7, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Maryland safety Nick Cross grew up as such a diehard Burgundy-and-Gold fan that as a kid, he’d sometimes cry after losses. One of the worst moments, he recalls, was in 2009 when the Carolina Panthers recovered a botched fair catch late thanks to some trickery.

For those that don’t remember — Cross certainly does — Panthers safety Quinton Teal pushed Byron Westbrook into punt returner Antwaan Randle El, resulting in the ball bouncing off Westbrook’s foot to set up a Carolina recovery. The Panthers then punched in the game-winning score two plays later.  

“I was distraught because I thought it wasn’t fair — he didn’t even get a chance to touch the ball,” Cross said. “But you know, my dad always said, ‘Save your tears.’” 

All these years later, Cross now calls the waterworks a “growing phase.” Still, if luck were to go his way, Cross could soon be in a position to help possibly prevent other kids from shedding tears over the team of his youth. That’s because, after three years with the University of Maryland, Cross is in line to hear his name called in April’s NFL draft. 

And, as it so happens, Washington needs another safety. 

In a further coincidence, the player comparison on Cross’ draft profile page on NFL.com is none other than Commanders starter Kam Curl. 

First, the 6-foot, 212-pound safety has to make it through the draft process. And this past weekend, Cross showed out at the NFL scouting combine — running a 4.34 40-yard dash to pair with his 37-inch vertical jump and his broad jump of 11 feet, 7 inches. His speed, in particular, was the fastest among this year’s safeties. 

As a whole, the metrics imply Cross is an absurd athlete. According to Relative Athletic Score, a measurement that compares a player’s athletic abilities relative to the position they play, Cross ranked a 9.9 out of 10. 

And out of 788 free safeties measured since 1987, Cross ranked ninth at his position, according to the same metric.

“I came in with the mindset that I’m going to have to meet with a lot of people and show them what I’m about,” Cross said Saturday, a day before he participated in the testing drills. “It’s lived up to the expectation of taking everything in. … I’ve taken full advantage of it and made the most of it.” 

Cross’ performance may very well have helped his draft stock — pegged somewhere between a Day 2 and Day 3 type pick. Even that, however, reflects Cross’ fast rise as an athlete. The Bowie, Maryland, native didn’t start playing football until his freshman of high school. His parents prevented him from taking the field sooner because of the injury risk, he said.

But once there, Cross picked up the sport quickly and soon transformed into a dominant defender at DeMatha. In 2019, he ranked as the state’s highest-rated recruit, according to 247Sports composite rankings. And in the process, Cross chose to stay home — committing to Terrapins coach Mike Locksley.

As a Terrapin, Cross racked up further accolades.  He was a three-time honorable mention for the All-Big Ten Conference. Last season, Cross led Maryland with three interceptions and two forced fumbles. NFL.com described Cross as the “bouncer” of the Terrpains’ defense, praising him for his explosiveness and aggression. 

“It prepared me a lot,” Cross said of his time at Maryland. “Coach Locks, the whole staff, they demanded a lot out of you, demand excellence out of you. They push you to be the best you can be. 

“I really enjoyed my time at Maryland and I would do it all over again if I had the chance.” 

Cross, though, declared for the NFL draft early — forgoing his senior season. Now, he has to sell himself to teams and convince them he’s worth the selection. At the combine, Cross even met informally with his childhood team.

He wasn’t asked, but chances are, no tears were shed this time. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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