Lakewood Ranch High's Rodgers-Cromartie takes winding road to second Super Bowl

One-time Lakewood Ranch High player Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie has overcome health scare, disappointing 2012 to lead Broncos to Super Bowl

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 2, 2014 

Redskins Broncos Football

Denver Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (45) returns an interception for a touchdown Oct. 27 against the Washington Redskins. Rodgers-Cromartie, who played at Lakewood Ranch High, is back in the Super Bowl. ASSOCIATED PRESS

JACK DEMPSEY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stan and Melissa Cromartie looked at their 5-year-old son after he had just had his kidney removed and could think of only one thing.

"We were just glad that he was alive. Playing sports was the furthest thing from our minds," Stan Cromartie recalls.

Among this year's Super Bowl stories, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's one kidney is up there with Peyton Manning's recovery from neck surgery.

Athletically speaking, DRC was left for dead after he was barely out of his toddler years.

Doctors told his parents their son could not play sports and to not even think about a contact game like football.

At 9 years old, DRC played in his first football game.

"He wanted to do it, and we found a doctor who said it was OK," his dad recalls.

Everywhere he has played, including at Lakewood Ranch High School, in college and in the NFL, DRC has had to sign a medical waiver because of the kidney.

It never scared him, and right now he is one of the most feared defensive backs in the NFL.

It's why DRC will be playing in his second Super Bowl in six years Sunday when he lines up as the starting cornerback for the Denver Broncos.

"I am grateful for all the help my dad has given me. He has always inspired me," Rodgers-Cromartie said.

Father and son talk after each game, and dad gives DRC a grade. He can be a pupil's worst nightmare.

"I've never given Dominique an A. I gave him a B-plus after the last game (against New England) because he tackled well," Stan Cromartie says. "There was one game earlier in the season when I gave him a C-minus because I didn't think he tackled well. I think that was the only one below a B. It helps give him a good perspective. Some of the criticism he received last year (with the Philadelphia Eagles) was unfair. That was not a good team."

DRC's run to the Super Bowl was not easy.

In his junior year of high school at Orlando Edgewater, he did not get on the field for one play and wanted to quit the team.

"I told him if you quit this now, you will quit everything," Stan Cromartie says.

Dominique moved to live with his mother his senior year and played for Lakewood Ranch under head coach Faust DeLazzer. It was his fourth high school in four years.

The summer before his senior year, DRC grew from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1 and displayed some inkling that he could be special.

DRC had a decent season at Lakewood Ranch but did not receive one scholarship offer.

Finally, Rod Reed, defensive coordinator at Tennessee State, who was close friends with Stan, gave Dominique a chance, more out of friendship to his dad.

DRC played well enough at Tennessee State to be considered a mid-round draft pick. He captured the NFL scouts' attention with how he performed in track and field and was voted defensive MVP of the Senior Bowl.

The 6-2, 185-pounder was invited to the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash, and from there DRC jetted into a first-round NFL draft pick in 2008 (16th overall by Arizona).

He helped take the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in 2008, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Tampa.

The Broncos signed Rodgers-Cromartie as a free agent during this past offseason because they felt he was the missing piece for a defense that could help them reach the Super Bowl.

Coming off two less-than-stellar years with Philadelphia, DRC exceeded their expectations. He is the Broncos' shutdown corner, replacing the aging Champ Bailey, a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

"They brought me and guys like Wes Welker here because they thought we could be the difference in making the Super Bowl," DRC said. "I am grateful they gave me the opportunity. I am humbled I have been able to play in the NFL and am going to my second Super Bowl, especially since no one wanted me out of high school."

Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off his best season. He has become a shut-down cornerback. In his last 14 games, opposing quarterbacks had a 47.5 rating against him and completed only one touchdown pass.

Unlike Seattle's Richard Sherman, who gained national attention after his rant that he was the best cornerback in the NFL, DRC is more concerned with things that reveal his true nature and don't garner national headlines.

With freezing temperatures initially expected to hit New Jersey for the Super Bowl, DRC was telling the media that he was worried about his elderly grandmother, Cora Rodgers, who was coming to the game.

DRC has the speed to contain Seattle's mobile quarterback, Russell Wilson, and take on the Seahawks' best receivers, including Percy Harvin, who is expected to play after being injured most of the season.

DRC is not a bragger, nor does he feel the need to tell everyone how good a player he is.

"My dad always told me to be respectful of others," DRC said. "I don't agree with what Sherman did. In this game we are going to just go out and play. That's one thing about our defense. We are not the rah-rah guys who are going to do a lot of talking. We are just going to play."

When DRC first game into the league, he thought he could excel just on natural talent alone but learned hard work and study is essential. He has done that this year thanks in part to what he learned from Manning and Bailey and is having his best year.

DRC doesn't make excuses but says what happened in Philadelphia was not the real him.

"We were losing, and I was afraid to make a mistake. Here I just go out and play, and it has made all the difference," he says. "I've taken to coaching better here, and the coaches let me play, and I am playing with confidence, which is a big thing."

And now he will be playing for his first Super Bowl ring.

Alan Dell, sports reporter can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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