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Troubled Armwood football player spends the night in jail

SEFFNER — Two Fridays ago, Armwood's Dykerius Cross caught the winning touchdown in this season's most anticipated high school game. A national television audience took notice, seeing the same promise college coaches had seen away from the cameras.

"Every college that came in here wanted to know who No. 81 was," coach Sean Callahan said.

But the 18-year-old's personal life was less spectacular. Cross was arrested Tuesday for the second time in three weeks, accused of breaking into Seffner homes in search of a place to sleep. In the first case, he told a deputy his aunt had kicked him out of their Star Pointe Drive residence.

His relatives said that wasn't true, that Cross, a senior at Armwood, had stayed away from home by choice.

"He's not a child," said one of his aunts, Lothia Cross. "He does what he wants to do."

Cross lost his mother to epilepsy when he was 18 months old. Days later, his grandmother and a neighbor found the toddler dehydrated and alone in an apartment with her remains, the Albany (Ga.) Herald reported on July 23, 1991.

"This is what I have lived with for the last 18 years," his grandmother, Anna Cross, said Tuesday, clutching a news account of the incident.

Her grandson sat in the Orient Road Jail late Tuesday, held on $8,000 bond. He had also been removed from the football team.

Dykerius Cross declined to speak to a reporter.

He was first arrested on the afternoon of Aug. 24, after a deputy found him inside 721 Star Pointe Drive in Seffner, an occupied home three houses away from the Cross home. He had climbed through an unlocked window to get out of the rain. He was asleep on the living room floor, Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

Tuesday deputies arrested Cross again. They said he pried open a sliding glass door at 402 Maple Pointe Drive in Seffner and slept there between July 28 and Aug. 13 while the home's owner was away. When the owners returned, Carter said, they found clothing and other items.

The charges Cross faces — suspicion of trespassing, second-degree felony burglary and criminal mischief — typically draw only probation or a diversion program, particularly if it's a first-time offense. Prosecutors had not received information about the latest arrest on Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.

Cross was in his second year at Armwood and second season on the football team after moving to Florida from Georgia as a sophomore. He had never played any sport before arriving at Armwood.

As Armwood began a season of state title hopes with a 9-2 victory over rival Plant on Sept. 5, the lanky 6-foot-5 wide receiver emerged to make the game's most pivotal play, catching the only touchdown.

"We are proud of him," said uncle Kilmon Cross.

Dykerius Cross entered the season as top returning receiver for a school that won Class 4A state titles in 2003 and '04 and is poised to win another. Rivals.com ranks Armwood No. 2 in the nation, and USA Today has the Hawks sixth nationally.

Callahan believed Cross had the potential to play in college, describing him as "a differencemaker" on the field. Callahan tried his best to get Cross to join the camaraderie of the team, but Cross was hesitant to ask for help. On Monday, a day before his arrest, Callahan removed Cross from the team.

"It's not out of discipline," Callahan said. "It was so he can get his life back in order. … I'm someone who likes challenges. I hate to lose. But I feel bad. I feel like I lost one."

It's not unusual for students to lack permanent homes. Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Schools, estimated there are about 500 homeless students in the district, although most belong to homeless families.

Mike Levine, coordinator of social services for Hillsborough County Schools, said many homeless students can barely stay in school let alone participate in sports.

"When you have a child who's living on their own but they're still able to come to school and participate and do the things other kids are doing, it really shows they've got something special — that they are able to overcome certain barriers," Levine said. "But eventually, something's gotta give."

Lane McLaughlin, a former Jefferson assistant who now coaches Carrollwood Day School, recalled the Dragons once having a player who bounced from house to house, living with several teammates and even his girlfriend.

"His parents didn't care," McLaughlin said. "His dad threw him out of the car on the interstate one night while they were going through downtown Tampa. He just left him."

Robinson coach Mike DePue said local coaches often dig into their pockets to help out student-athletes.

"I'd take kids home at night and go, 'Oh, my God, how do these kids get up every morning and go to school?' " DePue said. "Some of these kids, you don't know where they sleep at night. It's a tragedy that these things happen."

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Colleen Jenkins, Jessica Vander Velde and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report.

Troubled Armwood football player spends the night in jail 09/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:54am]

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