Coach Spotlight: Imani Cross

In the 2009 season, North Hall High School head coach Bob Christmas saw sophomore sensation, Imani Cross, rush for 79 yards on 15 carries for opposing Flowery Branch. The North Hall Trojans prevailed that night in a last second thriller 37-34. While impressed with Cross's performance, little did Christmas know he'd be coaching him less than a year later at North Hall.

"The ironic thing is he's grown two inches since he's been here, and he was already huge," said Christmas. "Imani's extremely strong. One of the greatest thing I can say about him is nobody works harder than he does in the weight room. In the last year his percentage of body fat is way down, and his strength is way up."

Cross, 6-2, 225, squats 500 pounds, power cleans 320 pounds, and benches 360 pounds. He also has 4.5 speed in the 40.

"Imani tore his Achilles last spring and missed all of the summer practices," Christmas said. "The first game he started was mid-season against Chestatee, and he rushed for 200 yards. Coming in from Flowery Branch, he had to learn everything, but couldn't participate due to the injury. By the end of the season he was really tough. We're excited about his senior year."

Offers were rolling in for Cross from all across the country. North Carolina, North Carolina State, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, UCLA, UCF had all extended an offer. Cross was scheduling Junior Day visits to those offering and those interested until he found what he was seeking.

"He was planning on going to a Junior Day at Mississippi State this weekend," said Christmas. "But he got back from Tennessee and said ‘Coach, I loved everything about it; the coaches, the atmosphere, everything. This is the place for me to go.'

"We tell our players that there are some good programs out there, and they're going to impress you, so hold off on a commitment unless you're 100-percent. Imani said, "Coach, I am 100-percent'."

With Cross's size and speed some think he could end up at linebacker. For North Hall this year he had 77 tackles and an interception at the position. Christmas, however, loves to watch him run with the ball in his hands.

"Here you have a big back who is a great downhill runner," said Christmas. "He's a power-back, but there are a bunch of those. What makes Imani different is how skilled he is at making people miss. He has very good vision and is able to see the field running at full speed."

The best thing the University of Tennessee is getting in Cross, Christmas believes, is Imani Cross, the individual more so than Imani Cross, the football player.

"Imani's real strength is that he's humble, unselfish, yet a fierce competitor," said Christmas. "He a tremendous leader. In my 37 years of coaching, 30 being as a head coach, Imani ranks Top 5 in my players who have been leaders. He mostly leads by example, but there is a real air of respect his teammates have for him and who he is."

Very strong in his Christian faith, Cross is very active in the FCA at North Hall and even has thoughts of entering the ministry after his career in football is complete.

"Last Wednesday night I heard Imani give his testimony," Christmas said. "He spoke about his injury and was actually thankful for God allowing it to happen because he had been putting football in front of the Lord. He said it woke him up and made him rethink his priorities. Sitting there I was just so impressed with this young man and the wisdom he has."

North Hall was only 5-5 in 2010 after eight straight season of 10 or more wins. Next season they return 15 starters including C.J. Curry (a UGA commitment), Darius Curry (a sophomore with offers from Tennessee and Oklahoma State), and quarterback Kanler Coker.

Cross comes from a football family with older brothers, Izaan Cross at Georgia Tech and Isaiah Cross having played at Northwood University. He also has a younger brother, Ithello, at North Hall who just started playing the game. In addition to football he also played small forward on the basketball team. He plans on an early graduation from high school in December in order to play next spring as a Volunteer.

This is Bob Christmas' 10th year at North Hall. Christmas is known as a master of the Wing-T offense and co-authored a book in 2009 with Ronnie Eaves titled Defending the Wing-T with the Split 4-4 Defense which has received enormous praise throughout the coaching community.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories