ANNA — This is shaping up to be one fine football season for the University of North Texas — and for former Anna High standout Keelan Crosby, who’s now starting his sophomore season with the Mean Green.
With UNT coming off its third-straight bowl appearance and a second-straight nine-win season, Crosby is making a strong push to start at cornerback this year. In spring workouts, he saw time with the first-team defense and is now ranked by the Denton Record-Chronicle as a Top 3 candidate to have a breakout season at UNT.
“The excitement level (in Denton) is crazy right now, getting ready for the upcoming season,” Crosby said during a visit to Anna High School late last month. “There’s been a lot of questions about our defense, just because we lost so many people. But the way we’re working, the way things are going, how our summer went, it’s looking really good for us.”
Slowing Crosby’s charge at the moment is recovery from right knee surgery for a torn meniscus.
“I should be back for the first game,” he said. “I’m not able to work out right now — just rehab. … Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to progress into full speed running.”
The Mean Green’s season-opener is at home on Aug. 31 against Abilene Christian.
At Anna, Crosby was a three-time All-District pick, starring on both offense and defense. In 2016, he earned First-Team All-District honors as a safety then was a First-Team All-District quarterback in 2017, his senior year. That final season at AHS, Crosby rushed for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns and threw for 427 yards and five TDs.
Anna head football coach Jason Heath said he’s not surprised by Crosby’s success at UNT.
“He was obviously a great athlete for us here and he did a lot of great things,” Heath said. “I’m proud of what he’s been able to do. He was definitely one that stood out on the field. He wasn’t hard to pick out. Those guys are usually the ones that play at the next level. I talk to his coaches there at North Texas quite often. They’re real high on him. They like his ability to pick up on the things that they’re implementing.”
Regarding his fine showing last spring, Crosby said he went in with the mindset of, “I want to play this year. I need to get that starting spot and show them what I can do.”
“It’s always good competing with my brothers,” Crosby said. “I’m really close to them. I just had to grind and work for it. It’s a lot faster when you get to the collegiate level. You’ve got to get used to that and just keep playing your game.”
Crosby is the son of Trina Dotson. She and Crosby’s sister recently accompanied him on a trip to the Bahamas.
“Being in the middle of the ocean was a great experience and very relaxing,” Crosby said. “I enjoyed swimming with the dolphins and having fun on the beach.”
Crosby’s first live-game collegiate action came in UNT’s opener last year against SMU, a contest the Mean Green won, 46-28.
“When I first got in the game, my heart was racing a little bit,” he said. “I was kind of nervous. But after a few plays, like anything else, you start to get in the groove of things, the rhythm. It’s just football from there.”
All told, Crosby appeared in 12 games as a freshman, working mostly on special teams. In the Mean Green’s 44-17 win at Arkansas, he was on the field for UNT’s now-famous trick punt return, when Keegan Brewer lulled defenders into thinking he was making a fair catch — but didn’t and sprinted for a touchdown. That was Crosby, right arm raised in triumph, escorting Brewer down the left sideline to the end zone.
“We actually practiced it that whole week,” Crosby said. “We’d seen that Arkansas didn’t really cover the ball on a punt so we thought we could take advantage of that. … At first I was kind of scared because he could’ve gotten hit, it could’ve gone really bad. But as soon as he caught it we realized they weren’t headed towards him, we were, like, ‘Yeah, this is gonna work.’ That game was amazing.”
Head coach Seth Littrell is starting his fourth season at UNT and owns a 23-17 record to date.
“Coach Littrell is a great coach,” Crosby said. “He’s always working with us, making sure that everything we need is taken care of. He really cares about his players.”
Other reasons for optimism in Denton: UNT’s incoming freshman class is said to be its best in years — and quarterback Mason Fine, the program’s all-time leading passing with 9,417 career yards, is back for his senior season.
“He’s a great player, just the way he’s able to read defenses,” Crosby said. “And he has a great arm too.”
Crosby said he “sometimes” misses playing offense and “scoring the touchdowns, getting to celebrate like that. But you can also score on defense, so that’s my mindset now.”
UNT, an NCAA Division I program, has competed in Conference USA since 2013. The Mean Green fell to No. 22 Utah State in last year’s New Mexico Bowl, with losses to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl and Army in the First Responder Bowl preceding that.
“We want to go to another bowl game, but also we want to win one,” Crosby said. “We’re trying to get a championship.”
As for this year’s regular-season slate, Crosby said he’s particularly looking forward to facing Cal-Berkeley on the road, Sept. 14, and hosting Houston on Sept. 28.
What would Crosby tell Anna athletes who want to play college football?
“Definitely work hard,” he said. “There are some days in high school when you don’t want to be there or you might not work as hard. But it’ll pay off if you do.”