“You don’t just wake up and decide you want to be an NFL football player or a college football player,” says All-Pro kick returner Josh Cribbs. To get to the highest level, Cribbs maintained a clear focus and embraced a big-fish-in-a-small pond mind-set.
As a sophomore standout QB at Washington, D.C. powerhouse Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the inexperienced (or so they said) Cribbs led the Crimson Tide to three consecutive D.C. Interscholastic Association championships. Big-time college programs took notice. However, they focused on the fact that Cribbs made more plays with his feet than with his arm, which led to a different kind of recruiting strategy.
Cribbs explains, “Syracuse wanted to redshirt me [and] change my position to safety. Maryland wanted to redshirt me [too]. I wanted to play right now. I felt that I was good enough.” Turns out, he was. And Cribbs’ wish was granted by Kent State University in Ohio.
“People always ask, ‘Why Kent State?'” Cribbs’ response is simple: “When a program says, ‘We’re going to put you at the number one spot right now. You’ll be the leader of the team,’ that’s a tremendous selling point.”
KSU allowed Cribbs to make an immediate impact instead of observing the action from the bench at a big-time program. As a freshman with a football scholarship, Cribbs stood out in an open competition for the starting QB job. He staked his claim, then backed it up. Cribbs says, “I was confident in my ability that, when given a chance and given the opportunity, I could get the job done.”
After coming off the bench in relief during the first two games, Cribbs took over the job of starting QB. Then, he literally ran with it, finishing the season as the nation’s fourth-leading rusher among QBs and leading the Golden Flashes to their first over .500 season in 14 years.
With each subsequent season, Cribbs continued to distinguish himself. The way he played—and trained—was unusual for a QB. He says, “I was lifting like crazy so I [could] get that 225-Bench Test up, running like crazy so my 40 time would be tremendously low—just trying to do everything I could to look good in the scouts’ eyes.”
Cribbs succeeded in looking good. After signing a rookie contract with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent, he made an immediate impact on special teams. He says, “I took advantage of all the opportunities, and now I’m at this point right now.”
“This point” refers to making the NFL’s All Decade Team (2000s) and becoming the League’s all-time leader in kickoff returns for touchdowns (eight).
Watch a video interview with Josh Cribbs about his Kent State college decision.