The lineman and the cutman: Lions rookie has legend in his corner

Tyrell Crosby got off the bus, walked into the hotel in Los Angeles and heard his name being yelled. Then a freshman offensive lineman at Oregon, he didn’t expect to know anyone. It didn't occur to him someone would drive from his hometown, Las Vegas, for the game.

Jacob “Stitch” Duran didn’t know he’d be staying in the same hotel as the Ducks' football contingent, either. Duran and his family drove from Vegas -- where he’s one of the most famous cutmen for boxers and mixed martial arts fighters in the world -- specifically to watch Crosby, now a rookie offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions, play against UCLA. Duran got his hotel keys, walked to the elevator and saw buses pull up.

“I’m like a little kid,” Duran said. “The guys are getting off the bus and here I am, I’m working with all these great superstar boxers, MMA guys and all that, and I’m jumping up and down, ‘Tyrell! Tyrell!’

“Like a little kid, right? Like what the f--- am I doing here? My wife is like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ”

Duran couldn’t help it. He and his family first got to know Crosby when he was a freshman at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada. Crosby had become teammates and good friends with Duran's son, Daniel, who was two years older than him. They got so close that the Durans had to drive to see Crosby play one of his first college games.

The night before the game, the Durans and Crosby chatted for a while in the hotel and again for around 20 minutes on Oct. 11, 2014, when Oregon beat UCLA 42-30 at the Rose Bowl.

Duran became an Oregon fan because of Crosby -- he even had a friend send him Oregon gear. Now he might need Lions apparel, too. On Saturdays the past four falls, before Duran would head to arenas to patch up the greatest fighters in the world, he’d be in front of his television focusing on the Oregon offensive line. He’d specifically watch Crosby -- his footwork, hand placement and technique. That night in Los Angeles, Duran offered Crosby advice on running and how to move from drill to drill -- things Crosby knew but were reinforced by a man he trusted for years.

That started with the first meeting after a Green Valley summer conditioning workout during Crosby’s freshman year. Crosby, a big UFC fan, recognized Duran sitting in the stands. Duran saw Crosby, a helmet taller than everyone else, and wondered, “Where did this guy come from?”

As Crosby and Daniel Duran hung out more, Crosby often listened to advice Stitch doled out around the field or between eating and video game sessions at the Duran home. He took little things from Stitch’s story: rising from picking crops in the field as a child in Planada, California, to being stationed in Thailand with the Air Force; opening a kickboxing school in 1992 in Fairfield, California, and eventually becoming the cutman for Andre Ward, the Klitschko brothers and a plethora of mixed martial artists; and making appearances in three movies and a UFC video game.

“There were a lot of things,” Crosby said. “But the best thing he ever taught me is through his story, how he grew up to get where he was, just from determination and not letting anybody tell him no. If someone doubted him, he went and proved them wrong.”

If Crosby had questions for Duran, the cutman laid out best-case and worst-case scenarios. He hoped his story might help Crosby, who was a fifth-round pick by Detroit this year and should be a reserve offensive lineman this fall, along the way.

Crosby would ask questions about everything from life to conditioning and stretching. Duran became a trusted adviser. He never trained Crosby; he just befriended him and watched him, intently.

“My dad just broke it down, talking about growing up and moving into adulthood and seeing what your path is and where you’re going with your dreams,” Daniel said. “He did that with me and I’m sure he had a time or two where he had that conversation with Tyrell, where he wanted to go with football and what he wanted to do with it.

“It’s one thing to be in high school, but then moving on to college and eventually the pros is a whole other story. Just seeing where he was at and at the same time understanding there was a lot of growth between each phase, you know.”

In high school, it was just talk. Then Crosby went to Oregon. He started to understand the lessons Duran imparted. Stitch was there for one of the first games of his career. He was also there for the last one.

In December, the Ducks faced Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. It brought Crosby, who had changed his number from 73 to 58 for the game to remember the victims of the October 2017 mass shooting at a concert on the Las Vegas Strip, back to his hometown.

Then-interim head coach Mario Cristobal had a background in mixed martial arts and jiu-jitsu. He asked Crosby for a favor. Cristobal knew about Duran. He asked Crosby to invite him to speak to the Ducks. Duran told his story and reinforced how he felt about Crosby, too. Duran told him how proud he was of him.

When Crosby was drafted, he called Duran a role model. When Duran was told that, he got a little choked up. The pride was clear. He has Crosby's back, and the young lineman knows the legendary cutman is in his corner, too.

“Whenever I need anything, I know that’s someone I can turn to,” Crosby said. “If I needed anything, it could be 2 in the morning, he would pick up the phone or Danny will pick up. Just someone I can always rely on and count on.

“Just having someone like that in my life as support is amazing. Knowing what he’s gone through and knowing the people that he knows and what they’ve gone through, just all the professional fighters that he’s worked with, I’m extremely lucky to have someone like that in my life.”