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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2022 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 28, Comanders.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. After first highlighting Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie, next up is Maryland's Nick Cross.
Nick Cross, S, Maryland
DeMatha Catholic High School has a long-running reputation of churning out NFL talent. Pro Football Reference lists 29 professional players from the school, three of which are active, and normally, there's some amount of hype surrounding the next potential player to add their name to the group.
That wasn't the case with Nick Cross; as defensive coordinator Deno Campbell put it, "nobody really knew him at all" when he joined the team as a freshman. It didn't take long for people to get acquainted with him, though.
"Nick is a special breed," Campbell said.
Cross, who had never played football before his freshman season, became one of the top safety prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft class and is expected to be taken in the second round (ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has him ranked seventh at the position). That's not bad for someone who watched YouTube videos to learn the sport, and the mixture of versatility and intelligence he developed at DeMatha has him poised for a bright future in the NFL.
"My guess is that he's only reached 35 to 40% of his potential in reference to what he's gonna do," Campbell said.
Cross was a four-star recruit and the No. 3 prospect in the state prior to committing to Maryland, but it took some time before he came into his own. As a freshman, he was placed at defensive end, but once he moved over to the varsity team during his sophomore year, his coaches moved him to DeMatha's version of a strong safety.
The transition helped Cross' raw athletic talent blossom even further, but it also became apparent that he was too athletic for that role. So, the coaches moved him to weak safety, and that's where he came a two-time first team All-WCAC selection with 94 tackles and four interceptions during his senior year.
It was a lot of movement in a short span, but it helped that Cross was so willing to learn as much as he could. Prior to his junior year, Cross pulled Campbell to the side and said they needed to watch extra film together.
"So for months…Nick and I met once a week, and we would watch film, break it down by position, break it down by routes, break it down by plays," Campbell said. "And we did this religiously for a little over a year."
It actually helped that Cross was still so new to the game. It allowed Campbell to teach him proper technique for basic aspects of the game like how to tackle without needing to break bad habits first.
"Everything you teach him is going to be something that's gonna be a good habit," Campbell said. "And he's gonna be able to perfect it."
There are scores of high school players who dream of making it to the NFL, but even at a school as prestigious as DeMatha, it's rare to find one who's willing to put in the work. That wasn't a problem with Cross, who made it clear to Campbell that he would do anything possible to make his aspirations a reality.
"He's one of those kids that…wants a gold jacket," Campbell said. "He wants to be a Hall of Famer. These are the types of goals he sets."
And Cross backed up his claims. During the summer of his junior year, DeMatha made a trip to Las Vegas to play Gorman High School, and Cross' preparations involved a six-page scouting report that "as good as any scouting report" Campbell had seen from another football coach.
"That's the type of kid we're talking about."
Cross has been able to pair that film study with the experience of playing defense at all three levels. He knows how to rush passer on the defensive line; he's read plays as what Campbell called a linebacker who operated out of the box; and he's matched up against receivers as a safety.
Cross ultimately landed at the right position with Maryland, Campbell said, but he sees the influences of past positions in his skillset.
"He's versatile enough to play in the box, to play on the goal post," Campbell said.
Campbell does believe that Cross will be a "hash-running safety" at the next level, and that's a credit to how he moves in open space, offering sideline-to-sideline coverage. What's more, his ball skills allow him to make a play once he gets to a receiver.
"Along with film study…it gives him a little bit of a head start on triggers, on where he is supposed to end up and where the ball's gonna end up based on the formation," Campbell said.
Cross has only been playing the sport for seven years, and he's accomplished much in that time. He was a three time All-Big Ten honorable mention with the Terps with six interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 134 tackles in his career. Campbell believes his potential will continue to grow at the NFL level.
Based on what he's seen from Cross in that span, he isn't worried about Cross putting in the effort to reach his goals, either.
"He's gonna be one of the guys that's gonna be the first one there and the last one to leave," Campbell said. "He's gonna have a million questions that he's gonna ask and it's only because he wants to get better."