Joshua Ross recognized the body, but didn’t know who was mentally at the controls.
Ross says Michigan and Ohio State will make his first cut at the end of the offseason.
The scene was Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s football camp last summer, and the team captains were working the camp for younger kids. Joshua had originally thought his older brother James Ross III, a quiet person by nature, was one of the Eaglet players running the show.
However that day, Joshua didn’t know who his older brother was.
“He said to me, ‘Dad I don’t know that guy,’” James Ross Jr., the father said. “He said, ‘whoa this guy, he’s screaming.’”
Joshua, meet your brother’s alter ego.
Apparently even at a camp for youngsters, Ross couldn't contain it. The competitive juices were flowing, and it’s also that passion and emotion that has helped the 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker develop into one of the Midwest’s top prospects in the class of 2012. Ross currently holds scholarship offers from Arizona State, Cincinnati, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Purdue, with interest coming from programs coast to coast.
“When I first heard of his alter ego, it was his A team year, so he was 13 or 14,” the elder Ross said. “I had a parent of a younger kid at Orchard Lake say, ‘that’s your son? My son tells me he scares him.’
“But if you know him, he’s not a talker. The lady was like he scares him, and I was like I have to see it.”
Named a captain at tradition-rich St. Mary’s prior to his junior season, Ross took his new duties very serious. He knew the guy that scared his little brother and intimidated other younger kids, was going to have to come out even more. Though that side of him flourishes on the football field, it might have developed on the ice.
Hockey played a major part in Ross's development on the football field.
Growing up, Ross was as promising a hockey prospect as he was on the football field. Always one of the better players in his age group, the physical player finally hung up his skates a year and a half ago to focus on the gridiron.
“He got into his first fight on the ice,” James Ross Jr. said. “His motor, it’s something that translated over the years from the ice to the football field. He’s never getting tired on the football field. Anytime there is a puck around, it was straight tenacity to get to that puck and take it where it should be.”
St. Mary’s leading the tackler the past two seasons, the school’s legendary coach George Porritt told 247Sports in the past that on top of Ross’ physical attributes, it was instincts to find the football and make the play that made him the great player that he is.
“I actually think hockey is what separates me from most linebackers,” Ross said. “I think it helped me with that first quick step and getting to the ball as fast as you can, because hockey, once you see it you have to go. There is no delayed step into it. That’s definitely something that separates me.”
The elder Ross recognizes it also helped in his son’s physical development.
“As soon as he started to skate, his lower body changed immediately. When he was able to compete, it really took off.”
Ross started playing hockey in the Learn to Skate program at six years old. Both Ross and his father feel if he pursued that avenue, he could also play college hockey on the highest level. It was a tough decision to finally give it up, but between hockey and football, Ross was struggling to find one day off to relax with his demanding schedule.
“I always liked football more,” Ross said. “I felt like hockey was something to have fun with, and football was always a little more serious.”
As a sophomore, Ross put himself on the recruiting radar, registering over 100 tackles, five sacks, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and an interception in a state runner-up season. This past fall, Ross battled through injury to help lead St. Mary’s back to the state championship game, totaling a team-high 77 tackles, including 14.5 for loss with four sacks. He also broke up two passes, forced one fumble and intercepted a pass.
The alter ego that comes out of Ross on game day, he says he doesn’t even know that person.
“I don’t know who this guy is who comes out of me,” he laughed. “It’s just that day, once I wake up, I don’t say nothing to nobody. I just need my space to listen to my music. At St. Mary’s, we do this thing, it’s tradition, we do a walk through on the field as a defense and then we go and pray at the chapel. Once we come back from the chapel, that’s when everything changes.”
College coaches are hoping to eventually see that transformation happen at practice and on game day inside their program.
Ross says he has no favorites early in the recruiting process and plans to name some favorites by the end of the offseason. He says when he does go to cut to his list, Ohio State and Michigan will still be in the picture.
The prior coaching staff at Michigan gave Ross one of his first offers, and last week on a visit to the campus, he got a chance to meet with new Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and the rest of the staff.
“They had a really great message,” Ross said. “They portrayed to me that they really cared about this University. I actually enjoyed the original Michigan staff that offered me, I liked them, and for some staff to impress me even more was shocking. I didn’t know it would be like that.
“I really enjoyed Coach Mattison,” Ross continued. “We actually went over what I’d be doing in the defense, and I’d actually be playing WILL, and he was just showing me how the WILL was covered up and has the freedom to make plays.”
Ohio State offered Ross late last week, and a third personality quickly developed.
“Nobody was at the house, so I did a quick little dance,” Ross said. “Nobody saw, but it was cool.”
Ross has been keeping in touch with Buckeyes assistant coach Paul Haynes.
“I grew up watching Ohio State,” Ross said. “Ever since I was born, they were the ones in the Big Ten between Michigan and Ohio State I watched. Just that consistency of winning they have, that’s what I really like about them. They’re always somehow on top.”
This spring, Ross says he’ll try to visit as many schools as possible. The coaches at each place will get to meet the nice quiet guy.