SAN ANTONIO -- These are the best of times for Steele defensive lineman Josh Croslen, a senior honor student who has started on the Knights’ varsity since his sophomore year.
Croslen went through a light workout with his teammates Thursday morning before he went home to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, and watch hours of football on TV.
As enjoyable as Thursday was for Croslen, the highlight of his Thanksgiving weekend will come when Steele (11-1) plays Weslaco East (8-4) in the third round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium in Corpus Christi.
“Playoffs are always fun, so everybody’s excited for it,” Croslen said Thursday, looking ahead to Friday night’s game. “We’re good. We still haven’t reached our full potential yet, so we’ve got to take every practice trying to get better, every game trying to get better. We’re good right now, but we’re getting better every day. We just want to keep playing.”
A victory against the Wildcats would move the Knights into the state quarterfinals for the seventh consecutive season. The Steele-Weslaco East winner meets the survivor of the Churchill-Laredo United South game in next week’s 6A Region IV Division II final.
Churchill (10-2) and United South (10-2) square off at 6 p.m. Friday at the Student Activity Center in Laredo. Churchill is in the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Long playoff runs have become the norm for Steele, which has reached the third round eight times since its first varsity season in 2006. The Knights missed the playoffs that year, but are a combined 123-17 in the ensuing 10 seasons.
Steele won the Class 5A Division II state championship in 2010 and advanced to the state final in the same division the next year. The Knights have been such consistent winners that they haven’t lost more than one regular-season game in the same year since going 9-3 in 2009. They also have reached the state semifinals in five of the past six seasons.
Steele has gone 38-4 since Croslen’s first year on the varsity in 2014.
“That’s what keeps us focused," Croslen said. "We want to win state."
As demanding as football can be, Croslen finds time to stay involved with Steele’s PALS program. Students in PALS, which stands for Peers Assistance and Leadership, mentor at-risk kids.
“We go to the different schools, elementary and junior high, and work with students, and we stay here at Steele and help with the special-ed kids,” Croslen said. “Community service is a good thing. It helps you put things in perspective, and see what’s really important in life.”
Croslen, 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds, already has committed to the University of Minnesota. He has been a linchpin on another solid Steele defense, recording 53 tackles (24 solos, 29 assists). Croslen also has 23 tackles for loss, including 9.5 sacks.
Steele coach Scott Lehnhoff said Croslen does “everything” well. Quick and athletic for his size, Croslen usually lines up at defensive tackle, but also plays the nose guard and defensive end positions.
“Josh is such a smart kid,” Lehnhoff said. “He takes everything that we do seriously. From a very young age, his focus, his knowledge of the game and his coachability has just been off the charts. He’s a technician. He knows what’s coming.
“He comes to the sideline and says, ‘Coach, this is what they’re doing. I know their signals. I know their calls already. It’s the second series of the ball game. He just has a good feel as a player.”
Steele defensive line coach Scott Leach talked about the sheer joy of working with Croslen, whom he described as “the total package” on and off the field. Croslen, who maintains a 4.0 grade-point average, is also a member of Steele’s National Honor Society.
“One of the things about him is his character,” Leach said. “He’s got great character. The things he’s involved in outside of football makes him an unbelievable guy to coach, so easy to coach. He has fun and laughs, but knows when to get serious. He can tell you what a safety does on any given coverage. He is the total package.
“He understands what we do and he does his job. He’s a leader out on the field. I challenge him before every game. I tell him, ‘You’re a leader. Get these guys going.’ And he says, ‘Yes, sir.’”
The son of an Air Force veteran, Croslen was born in the San Francisco area, and moved into the Cibolo area with his family during the summer before his fourth-grade year. Croslen didn’t start playing football until he was in the seventh grade at Dobie Junior High in the Schertz-Universal City-Cibolo ISD.
“Dobie kind of got me started and then the Steele coaches always came down there and watched us play our junior high games,” Croslen said. “It got me from there.”
Five years later, Croslen is doing everything he can to extend another Steele playoff run.
“I just want to keep playing,” he said.
Area high school football playoff pairings
(All third-round games)
Class 6A Division II
Steele (11-1) vs. Weslaco East (8-4), Friday, 6 p.m. Buc Stadium, Corpus Christi
Churchill (10-2) vs. Laredo United South (10-2), Friday, 6 p.m., Student Activity Center, Laredo
Class 5A Division II
Boerne Champion (10-2) vs. Corpus Christi Calallen (11-1), Friday, 2 p.m., Farris Stadium
Class 4A Division I
Waco La Vega (12-0) vs. Somerset (10-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Prairie View A&M
Class 4A Division II
Navarro (12-0) vs. Wharton (8-4), Friday, 6 p.m., Victoria
Cuero (12-0) vs. Wimberley (10-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Heroes Stadium
Class 3A Division I
Altair Rice (8-3) vs. Hallettsville (12-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., El Campo
Goliad (9-3) vs. Yoakum (8-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Rutledge Stadium
Class 2A Division II
Burton (11-1) vs. Falls City (8-4), Friday, 7 p.m., Edna
TAPPS Division II
Holy Cross (11-1) vs. Austin Regents (12-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Matador Stadium, Seguin