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How One ’98 Vol’s Lumberjack Skills Helped Tennessee Win a National Championship

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Tennessee fullback Phillip Crosby’s road to the 1998 national championship game didn’t move in a straight line. In fact, it all began with an obstacle course.  

“I didn’t start football until the ninth grade,” Crosby said during his appearance on the Celebrate ‘98 series.  

It was a year earlier when Crosby realized most of the kids his age were never around after school. He didn’t understand why. Crosby continued, “My mom was like well… once they get home from school most go right off to practice. So, if you want to go out and try for the team, well then go out there.” 

Which is exactly what the eighth-grader did. The coach was impressed by him right away.  

“I went out and the coach was like, ‘Hey you’re a good-looking kid. Have you played before?’” Crosby had never played before, but his talent was already shining through. He would have made the team that year if it wasn’t for one little thing… his timing. Practice had begun three weeks earlier and the team had already been selected. Crosby remembered when speaking to the coach, “He said “Love to see you next year.’” 

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Crosby had to wait until the next season. There wasn’t much he could do about that, but one thing he could do during this time was train, prepare and learn everything he possibly could to ensure he was on that football team next season. In order to train, though, he was going to need some equipment.  

“I said to (my mom), ‘I am going to cut down about an acre’s worth of trees.’” Crosby said. He used some of the logs to create dumbbells and he also made his own bench press with the wood he compiled. The rest was used towards the obstacle course. In addition to demolishing a chunk of his backyard, he piled old couch cushions up against a pine tree to mimic the feeling of hitting an opposing player. 

“That’s where it all started,” Crosby reminisced. “Me hitting the tree and then that led to me creating an obstacle course in my own backyard…Me working out that whole year to make sure I made that ninth-grade team without any hesitation.”  

His hard work paid off. He went to ninth-grade tryouts with the preparedness and confidence of someone who had played football his whole life. The coach remembered him from the prior year. Crosby recalled, “They put me against the biggest guy on the team. I will never forget when the coach blew the whistle. I ran right through him and went on to the next guy.”  

After a full year of preparation, it appeared his off-season hard work was starting to show. Crosby recalls his high school coach saying, “That right there is our player. He’s our linebacker to start and fullback to finish.’”  

Team practice was very different than the workouts in Crosby’s backyard. In fact, slamming up against a large pine was more challenging than the early team exercises.  

“When I finally got there the following year,” Crosby said with a grin, “It was so easy because everyone was a tree.”

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