Before he became a candidate to participate in it, Dane Cruikshank would watch the NFL scouting combine with his grandpa, his mom and his younger brother.
The combine and the draft sometimes would bring Beverley Jackson to tears. She knew dreams were coming true.
Her football-playing older son had that same dream. He would go to a big-time college, make himself into a pro prospect, get invited to the combine and show the NFL his wares.
But at some point along the way, Cruikshank hit what he labeled a “dead end.” At the very least, it was a detour.
Before he became an Arizona Wildcat — and the UA’s lone representative at this weekend’s combine in Indianapolis — Cruikshank spent two seasons at Citrus College in Glendora, California. He did not have the requisite core classes to qualify for a four-year school. So he had take the JC route — not an uncommon path, but not what Cruikshank envisioned either.
It turned out to be a needed source of motivation for a kid who hadn’t taken school as seriously as he should have.
“It helped me grow up,” Cruikshank said. “It made me see the bigger picture. Do I want to go to the NFL, or just sit at home on the couch eating chips all day?”
Assuming they can sit still, Cruikshank’s family members will be glued to the couch Monday, when defensive backs work out to conclude the combine. Despite the detour, they never stopped believing he would make it.
“We never gave up on him,” Jackson said, “which helped him never give up on himself.”
Although he might not have received the proper guidance in high school – by the time everyone realized he didn’t have enough core classes, it was too late to catch up — Cruikshank held himself accountable. “It was my fault,” he said.
When he graduated from Ayala High School in Chino Hills, California, his mom sent him a congratulatory text message. Cruikshank replied that he could have done better — that if he really had buckled down, maybe he could have completed the necessary requirements.
“I didn’t expect that response from him,” Jackson said. “I think he kind of got it. With that mindset, once he got to junior college, he put his head in it and did what he had to do.”
Cruikshank put in the work, impressed on the field and landed a scholarship at Arizona. Then came another detour — or at least a speedbump.
Then-UA coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff elected to redshirt Cruikshank in 2015. As was the case with the academic situation in high school, Cruikshank initially felt frustrated and disappointed. But he again came to realize it was in his best interest.
Cruikshank used that redshirt year to get acclimated and get stronger. It put him in a position to start for two seasons. Had he played right away, he might have started only one.
“It really worked in his favor,” Jackson said. “It makes you more hungry.”
Cruikshank started every game the past two seasons. He played cornerback in 2016, finishing with 60 tackles, nine passes defensed and two interceptions. He struggled at times to locate the ball in pass coverage.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates moved Cruikshank to the “Spur” safety position last season, putting him in the slot and closer to the tackle box. Cruikshank — who measured at 6 feet 1¼ inches and 209 pounds in Indianapolis — thrived in that role. He recorded 75 tackles, including 5.5 for losses, eight passes defensed, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein projects Cruikshank as a sixth- or seventh-round selection, praising his size, speed and athleticism.
“Cruikshank does have talent and is a hungry hitter, but he may lack the consistency in coverage to hold up as a full-time safety or cornerback,” Zierlein wrote. “His ability to run and hit could make him a Day 3 target for a team looking to turn him into a backup defensive back and special-teams ace.”
Zierlein’s NFL.com colleague, Chad Reuter, agreed with the Day 3 projection but had Cruikshank going in the fourth round in a recent mock draft.
The actual draft is April 26-28. The combine is the critical next step.
Jackson recalled the day she found out her son had been invited. She wasn’t feeling well and was sitting in the waiting room at urgent care when Cruikshank texted her a copy of the official invitation on NFL letterhead. Again, Jackson wanted to cry.
“People were going to think, ‘What is wrong with this lady?’ There were so many emotions,” Jackson said. “It was just amazing.”
Jackson, a hair stylist, is taking the day off Monday. Cruikshank’s grandpa, Jesse Marshall, will be watching as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of his grandson running the 40 or participating in position drills.
“It’s a whole different excitement when it’s your own kid,” Jackson said. “The anxiety of this is just like … wow.
“We’re all really proud and excited for Dane. His journey, I won’t say it was a super hard one, but I won’t say it was typical.”
It took some unexpected turns, to be sure. In the end, Cruikshank is exactly where he always planned to be.