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Super Six: Norcross' Croom blossoms into star receiver

Photo by Jason Braverman

Photo by Jason Braverman

Blessed with considerable natural talent, Jason Croom just needed a little nudge forward. He got it from college football recruiters.

The Norcross standout admittedly coasted through his first two years of high school, playing decently but barely scratching into his vast potential. He didn't hit the weights very hard. He didn't do as well as he could in the classroom.

Then he got his first college offer, from Auburn, the summer before his junior year. A light bulb came on in his head and a flurry of offers followed. In the process, Croom was a changed man.

"When colleges first started talking to me, that's when I started working really hard," Croom said. "When Auburn first offered me, I knew I had to step things up. People are going to look at me differently. They're going to expect more out of me.

"I just got it in my head and started working. ... I just started working hard everywhere -- in the classroom, in the weight room, everywhere."

Norcross head football coach Keith Maloof was pleased to see that transformation in Croom, comparing it to what he sees frequently on the high school level.

"Once you start getting that kind of attention from SEC, ACC schools, it kicks in," Maloof said. "It builds motivation inside of you to do the right thing. We can talk until we're blue in the face but when they actually see things coming their way, it really kicks in.

"When he was in ninth and 10th grade, his work ethic wasn't quite there, but now he's picked it up his junior and senior years. He's been able to work to put himself in this position. He's better in the weight room, in school. He's figured it out in every aspect of what it takes to be a great player."

The hard work was the only missing piece for Croom, thanks to his amazing raw talent.

Blessed with great height as a 6-foot-5 wide receiver, he's bulked up his once-thin frame to 220 pounds. He has great leaping ability and runs the 40-yard dash as fast as 4.45 seconds, but he's just as proud as the 13 pancake blocks he had last year.

It's no wonder the college offers starting coming rapidly. He has his list pared down to two schools, Mississippi State and Tennessee, with his official announcement planned for next Thursday afternoon prior to the season opener with Dacula.

Croom is expecting more out of himself this season after catching 32 passes for 506 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He had a breakout game in last year's playoff loss to state champion Brookwood, catching five passes for 151 yards and two scores.

"He came on real strong at the end of the year last year, especially the Brookwood game," Maloof said. "I think that was a coming out party for him. That catapulted him into being one of the better receivers around. He's always had the ability and now he's coming into his own. He's really worked hard during the offseason. He's gone off to these one-day camps at schools and he's shown out and it's paying off for him."

Croom hopes that work results in a better season for him and his team.

"I could have done better last season," said Croom, who was born and raised in Detroit until moving to Norcross as a middle-schooler. "Now that I'm a senior, I know I have to step up. As a junior, I felt like I was not doing what I was capable of doing. But this year, I know I have to step it up."

Croom stepped it up plenty last basketball season, starting for a Class AAAAA state championship team. He was a powerful dunker and a defensive stopper, using the latter role to turn the tide of a state finals win over Milton. He also had some timely baskets in the championship game, reminding fans why he originally thought basketball was his path to college.

He hit his growth spurt early and during middle school was ranked as the ninth-best basketball player in his class in the state, as well as in the top 100 nationally after shining with the Georgia Stars AAU team.

But when he quit growing taller, his classmates began catching up.

"Once I got older, I realized the position I was playing inside, I wasn't tall enough to play," Croom said.

In football, he's one of the tallest.

He's also the biggest weapon on a Norcross offense full of talented skill players who will have to carry the load while an inexperienced defense grows up. Maloof also praised the senior's leadership, both on and off the field, and said that role suits him well.

"We've been working hard out here," Croom said. "I like what I'm seeing and the coaches like what they're seeing. I think we'll be better than we've been in awhile. I'm just trying to take it one game at a time and keeping my team up. And taking care of what I have to do individually to help the team out."