By Thomas Sellers Jr.
These days Alan Cross in No. 45 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before he lined up recently to play the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football, Cross sported the black and gold of the Millington Trojans.
Friday night friends, family, coaches and Cross’ fans made their way to Mooney Boswell Field to celebrate the Millington Central High School administration retiring of Cross’ No. 43.
Now Cross joins other Trojan Football greats Marlon Barnes (20), Tyrone Calico (33) and Ahmaad Galloway (22) as retired jerseys of Millington players to reach the NFL. Dana Payne’s No. 87 and Mario Reed’s No. 29 are also retired numbers at MCHS.
Other members of the exclusive club Cross joined Friday night are Trojan Basketball greats Jasmine Newsome (22) and Tony Dumas (23).
“It’s a great feeling to always come back here and see the program still kicking,” Cross said. “Obviously it still hasn’t hit me. You see guys like Calico and Ahmaad. You see those jerseys in the high school and you’re like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ Now they’re like, ‘We’re retiring your jersey.’ ‘My jersey is going to be right beside their jerseys?’ That’s pretty cool.”
Cross’ father Brad said his son has been humbled by the honor that he worked hard to achieve.
“It’s real special because he worked his butt off to come up from SYS through Millington to Memphis,” the elder Cross said. “All the way to the pros as a walk-on, he earned it. He never gave me any trouble growing up. He’s just a hard-working kid.”
Cross is an un-drafted rookie for Tampa Bay. Prior to reaching the NFL, he was an All-Region player for the Trojans spending time at tight end, linebacker, long snapper and even quarterback. He was a AutoZone Liberty Bowl High School All-Star and 2011 Millington Star Male Athlete of the Year.
After high school, Cross was a walk-on for the Memphis Tigers. He would earn a scholarship helping the Tigers reach two bowl games including a Miami Bowl victory.
Cross set records at The U of M at the tight end position. He caught more touchdown passes than any other tight end in school history with 14. The former walk-on caught 90 passes for more than 1,000 yards.
“I always said if somebody gave him a chance, he would prove everybody else wrong and he would make it,” Brad said. “The Lord gave him a chance and he’s proved everybody wrong.
“We knew he could long-snap,” he added. “But he’s the all-time leading tight end at Memphis because of (Justin) Fuente. He saw something in him. He got him to where he was. Alan just proved it. He took a chance and made the best of it.”
Alan took advantage of his chances under head coaches Hank Hawkins and Chris Michael at Millington. In 2007 he got his Millington Trojan Black and Gold uniform to join forces with All-Region players like Demetre “Rock Head” Jones.
“I remember when I got to play with Rock,” Cross recalled. “I think it was against Arlington. I was looking at the yearbook the other day, I saw a picture of him and me playing together. It was like a dream. I think its SYS Night as well. I would come up here to games when I was in SYS dreaming of playing for them. I finally got a chance to play against Arlington, it was a dream.”
Cross continued to chase his dream at Memphis walking onto then Head Coach Larry Porter’s team. But the arrival of the next Tiger leader paved the way for Cross to become an all-time great for the Blue and Gray. Cross remembered his first time putting on those colors.
“It felt great,” he said. “That first game was against UT-Martin. That was a dream come true. I caught my first pass in that game. It was a wheel route. I’ll never forget it. It was great to play in the Liberty Bowl where so many great memories were created. DeAngelo has played there. Peyton Manning has played there. The Memphis Showboats played there. It was a lot of history. Just a great feeling.”
Now the great feeling has spread to the National Football League.
“The first preseason game was in Philly,” Cross recalled. “I was like, ‘Ah man, just last year I walked onto this field as a Tiger. Now I’m with Tampa Bay.’ It was just like high school, a dream come true for sure.”
Brad said it was a team of great people who helped his son reach his dream of the NFL and earn the honor of his jersey being retired.
“Ray Wilmer, Tommy Clifton and Chris Michael, I’m leaving some people out,” he said. “Tommy Clifton is probably the closest to Alan than anybody. But it started with Ray Wilmer. Ray instilled in every kid he’s ever coached to be a winner. He deserves the credit. He’s one of the greatest leader of children I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Of course Tommy, he’s Alan’s PaPa,” Brad continued. “They’re good buddies. When you’re around good people, you’re going to do good things. Alan became a Christian at an early age in his life. With the Lord, he’s been blessed.”
Now the No. 43 will hang in the halls of MCHS for current and future Trojans to see.
“I hope they think of just a guy who put in hard work on and off the field,” Alan concluded. “He never game up and always achieved his dream. He just kept fighting to live out his dreams. He never gave up.”