“I think a high school athlete can learn about focus and about the path taken to get to where I am. 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.
Then again, Cribbs didn’t wake up and decide he wanted to be a special teams star. The former standout quarterback at Kent State listened to what a Cleveland Browns scout told him during a pre-draft workout: that he wasn’t going to make it in the NFL at QB, and that his best opportunity would be as a return specialist who also excelled at covering kickoffs and punts.
This assessment left an impression on Cribbs, who signed a rookie contract with the Browns as an undrafted free agent. Still, such a position change was unfamiliar territory for him.
“Competing against guys [who’ve] been doing this their whole life, and then me, coming out and doing it for the first year, it was a battle for me to compete against these guys,” he says. “But I was up for the challenge and I’m still up for the challenge. I knew that I had a goal to reach.”
Always confident in his abilities, Cribbs made an immediate impact on the Browns’ special teams units, “making tackles, returning the ball all the way to the 40, breaking tackles and making touchdowns. I knew I had the job on lock,” he says.
On lock was not only his team’s return strategy but also opposing coverage schemes. It wasn’t long before Cribbs raised the bar as the preeminent return man in the league.
Cribbs says, “Returning is strictly athleticism and vision: seeing holes, running through holes, knowing where I should be and where the tacklers are. It’s basically counterintelligence, and it all works perfectly—when you run a certain way and fake this way, you get the whole defense to flow at a certain point.”
Although his career did not take the course he charted for it, Cribbs wants his story to impact the lives and aspirations of the next wave of football players. He says, “If it were easy, everybody would do it. It’s about being focused. If you’re good and your goals are set, you’ll get seen anywhere, no matter what college you go to. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll reach that ultimate goal and be where I’m at, playing professional football.”
Return next week for the finale of this series.