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Crosby Returning Home; Playing for Vegas

(Eric Evans/GoDucks.com)

(Rob Moseley/GoDucks.com)

The son of this city will rise Saturday with a heavy heart, swelling with pride yet burdened by sorrow.

Oregon senior Tyrell Crosby will close out his splendid college career in a hometown now scarred by tragedy, after the mass shooting during a country music concert on Oct. 1. The gentle giant who once worked as a ballboy for the Las Vegas Bowl will play his last game as an amateur in Sam Boyd Stadium when the Ducks take on No. 25 Boise State on Saturday (12:30 p.m. PT, ABC).

The Ducks (7-5) arrived in Las Vegas on Monday. Their team hotel, Delano Las Vegas, is in the Mandalay Bay complex, whose signature property was the perch from which the Oct. 1 shooter targeted the open-air concert across Las Vegas Boulevard.

As the team busses approached the hotel Monday, Crosby — in Bus 1, of the six-bus convoy — experienced a chill.

"It felt eerie to me; it felt strange," Crosby said this week. "It just kind of hit me — this is where it happened."

On Saturday, Crosby will honor the 58 victims lost to the tragedy by wearing jersey No. 58 when the Ducks face the Broncos. To Oregon football fans and the program, the Las Vegas Bowl is one last chance to cheer the left tackle, who blossomed from talented true freshman on the 2014 College Football Playoff team into the Morris Trophy winning senior who dominated opponents in 2017.

To Crosby, it's the chance to honor the city that became his home as an elementary school kid, and which has an enduring hold on his heart.

"This is so much more than a game to me," he said. "I take a lot of pride in being from Vegas — especially being a football player from Vegas."

The Ducks practiced this week at Bishop Gorman High, a private school with lavish facilities. Crosby emerged from more humble means, having attended Green Valley High in neighboring Henderson, Nev.

Gifted with unnatural athleticism for a man of his size — 6-foot-5, 320 pounds — Crosby played immediately as an Oregon true freshman, and ended up starting nine 2014 games protecting Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Back then, the soft-spoken kid with the huge heart was seen as a gifted prospect who still needed to come out of his shell and embrace his potential. That didn't take long.

Oregon's star defensive end Jalen Jelks, a classmate of Crosby's who redshirted in 2014 and thus is a junior this season, recalls facing Crosby in practice when they were underclassmen. They were in their second season as Ducks when Jelks saw a switch flip with Crosby.

"We were doing one-on-one pass rush, and he literally picked someone up and threw him on the ground," Jelks recalled. "I was like: 'Huh. He's never done that before …'"

As a sophomore, Crosby entered the starting lineup full-time. He played all 12 games at right tackle, opposite Tyler Johnstone. After Johnstone graduated, Crosby was poised to take over protecting the UO quarterbacks' blind side, until foot injuries sidelined him for all but two games last season.

Still, he found a way to make on impact on the program, in 2016 and for its future. The Ducks relied heavily on four redshirt freshman starters last season, and that quartet — Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Brady Aiello — will fill out the UO line along with Crosby on Saturday.

Lemieux, selected by teammates as Oregon's most improved player this season, recalled the support Crosby provided him the past two years, when he was harshly critical of his own play.

"He was the guy to say, 'Hey, I was like that as a freshman, too' — which I doubt," Lemieux said. "But he said, 'Listen, and trust the process.' He's the guy who gave me the confidence to do that."

Oregon's new head coach, Mario Cristobal, spent the regular season as the Ducks' first-year offensive line coach. He considers Crosby the best offensive tackle in college football, but is even more appreciative of the senior's impact as a leader. To a coach, there's nothing more valuable than having a player with immense gifts who also is one of the team's hardest workers.

"It creates a special vibe in that locker room, one that other people want to follow," Cristobal said. "This is impactful. He's not only affecting the guy beside him, it affects all those around him."

In his return from the foot injuries that plagued him last fall, Crosby got off to a stellar start as a senior. In each of the season's first two weeks, he was graded out as one of the best tackles in the Pac-12 by Pro Football Focus.

Then, as October dawned, the shooting in his hometown. He spent anguished hours that night, and in the coming days, reaching out to friends and family who were impacted by the violence. In turn, he leaned on his teammates for support.

One of the country concert's promoters was a friend, Crosby said. Another friend of his worked in a local hospital helping victims that night. Thankfully, he didn't know any of the 58 killed, or the hundreds more who were wounded. But he knew plenty affected.

"Physically they were fine," Crosby said. "But still to this day, people are having flashbacks. Emotionally, they're not healed."

On Saturday, in the Las Vegas Bowl, Crosby will honor his friends who were at the concert that night, and the victims of the horrific tragedy. He'll close out his college career by honoring the city he loves, and which he intends to call home again one day. As he looks to handle the Boise State defensive line the way he's handled opponents all season, Crosby will be "Vegas Strong," remembering always the city that raised him, and its victims lost on that horrible October night.

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