By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
The last time many people saw Quincy Crosby was during his final high school football game at Ford Field back in 2012, when the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder was a senior captain for Muskegon High School.
Chances are most didn’t notice him, since he was doing the unheralded dirty work as the starting center for the Big Reds, who lost a 35-28 heartbreaker to Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice that day in the MHSAA Division 2 Final.
The next time many see Crosby, he will be front and center, and impossible to miss, showing off an entirely different skill set.
Crosby, 24, has transformed from bruising lineman to up-and-coming Hollywood star, who last year landed a dream role as Michigan’s own Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the upcoming HBO series focusing on the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime” era of the 1980s.
“I’m just a kid from Muskegon; now I’m playing Magic on a TV show. How cool is that?” said Crosby, who played football and was a theater major at Kalamazoo College after his prep days. “I guess this is the big break I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Every part I didn’t get was worth it to get this one.”
The show, which is being produced by former Lakers standout Rick Fox, was originally titled “Showtime.” But that name was scrubbed when it was picked up by HBO, a competing network with Showtime. Right now, the series is referred to by the generic, “Untitled Lakers Project.”
The one-hour limited series drama is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” The Untitled Lakers Project is described by HBO as a fast-break series chronicling the professional and personal lives of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, one of sports’ most revered and dominant dynasties—a team that defined its era, both on and off the court.
The series features some big names, including John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss, Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jason Clarke as Jerry West. In the cast list, Crosby goes by his stage name of Quincy Isaiah – which are his first and middle names, respectively.
The series was expected to debut this month to coincide with the NBA Finals, but production delays due to Covid-19 and the suspension and uncertainty of the NBA season have pushed that tentative starting date back to June, 2021.
The delay hasn’t kept Crosby off Cloud 9.
Crosby landed the part in early June of last year, and in the days following that announcement, he went to Game 5 of the NBA Finals, where Fox introduced him to celebrities like Jalen Rose, Jerry West and Common. Then he hung out in Las Vegas for some NBA summer-league games, where the stargazing continued. He has yet to meet Magic, but expects that to happen soon.
“Everyone is telling me this is a game-changer, that this is going to be huge,” Crosby said. “I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
Catching the bug
Muskegon High School football coach Shane Fairfield wasn’t surprised to learn that his former team captain and three-year varsity player had earned a leading role in a television show – but as a basketball star?
“I said: ‘Basketball? You ain’t got no game!” Fairfield said with a laugh. “But the reality is, that role was kind of made for him. Quincy has that charisma and that big, amazing smile, just like Magic.”
Crosby’s transition from one of the “Brothers of Destruction” on the Big Reds’ offensive line to thespian actually began a few months after that crushing loss to Brother Rice.
That game started Muskegon’s incredible run of seven football Finals appearances in eight years, and the Big Reds have the winningest program in state football history and rank No. 7 in the nation with 859 wins (dating back to 1895). But the school had not been able to put on a spring musical in more than 20 years due to budget cuts.
But that spring, in a stroke of fortune, the school was selected in NBC’s 2013 “Smash” Make A Musical contest and awarded funding to put on the classic musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Crosby said theater director Karli Baldus talked him into trying out for the show, and he landed the comical part of Ching Ho.
“I caught the bug, big time,” Crosby recalled with a laugh. “I thought it was the best thing.”
He also noticed parallels right away with football, with both requiring hours and hours of practice and repetition in preparation for game time – or show time.
“When I was playing football, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else and I would just get zoned out on what I had to do on the line,” said Crosby. “It’s the same thing in acting. You practice until you know it by heart, and then you get out there and just let it go. Acting is all instincts.”
Crosby took acting classes at Kalamazoo, but due to football, never had enough time to be part of the big productions.
That all changed after performing a sketch in his television production class his junior year. He got pulled aside by his professor, who told Crosby he saw major acting potential in him and encouraged him to get more involved his senior year.
That heartfelt plea led Crosby to not only quit the football team after three years as a starter on the offensive line, but also to change his major from business to theater. He then blossomed on the stage his senior year, working behind the scenes in the fall production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” before earning major roles of Walter Lee Younger in “Raisin In The Sun” and Benny in “In The Heights.”
Finding the Magic
Shortly after graduating from K-College in 2017 with a theater degree, Crosby made his way to Hollywood to pursue his acting dream, only to find it was a bumpy road – to say the least.
Crosby was able to land small roles in short productions like “Corporate Coffee” and “Anomaly,” but his bid for major roles was met by rejection after rejection.
In those moments, he said, his background as an offensive lineman at Muskegon got him through.
“I learned to embrace the grind playing football at Muskegon,” said Crosby, the son of Delores Crosby and the late Gregory Crosby, who died when Quincy was just 3 years old. “You know, being an offensive lineman helped too. You get blamed when things go wrong and none of the praise when things go right, so you learn to just stay in your bubble and grind.”
His Hollywood experience nearly ground to a halt in early 2019, and he was about to enlist in the Navy when his agent and fellow Muskegon native Terrance Williams helped him land the audition that would change his life.
Ironically, he didn’t even get a script until the day of the audition and while others had memorized their lines, Crosby read directly from the script. He still landed a callback for the lead role of Magic and, six days later, he was ready and brought his “A game.”
“Walking out of the callback, the casting director told me to keep my phone close because that was a really good audition,” said Crosby.
The only thing left was a basketball audition with Fox in a high school gym, which clinched the role, Crosby said.
Fox and Crosby then started making the Hollywood rounds before shooting the pilot in October, after which the series was picked up by HBO in November. After a lengthy delay due to Covid-19, the plan is to shoot the first year of the series this fall, starting when Magic was drafted by the Lakers out of Michigan State in 1979.
One benefit of the delay is that it has given Crosby time to watch reams of old Magic footage and try to capture his nuances – on and off the court.
“The good thing about playing Magic is that there is so much video and footage of him out there,” said Crosby. “There’s so many things I’ve picked up – the way he walks and the way he always says ‘right’ after sentences. I’m getting better and better at it.”
Meanwhile, back in Muskegon, the Big Reds’ coaching staff is continuing its year-round quest to get more players into college and prepared for life after high school. Fairfield said he can’t wait to have his team watch the Lakers series and see one of their own in a starring role.
“Quincy is an example to our kids that there are so many avenues to success,” Fairfield said. “Making the NFL is one-in-a-million. What we emphasize is that you take what you learn here – hard work, discipline, perseverance, humility – and you apply it to anything you want to do in life.”
This is the first installment in a weekly summer “Made in Michigan” series catching up with this state's past high school athletes as they continue their stories.
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Quincy Crosby plays Magic Johnson in an upcoming HBO series. (Middle) Crosby, now seven years after graduating from Muskegon High. (Below) Crosby, far right, heads to midfield with his teammates for the coin flip before the 2012 Division 2 Final at Ford Field. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Quincy Crosby. Below photo by Tim Reilly.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)