John Tyler’s ‘Game Changer’ Fred Ross One of the State’s Top Playmakers
It's Wednesday evening, and the John Tyler Lions are finishing up their final practice of the week in preparation for their Class 4A Division I state semifinal with Denton Guyer.
The players run a series of 40-yard sprints to conclude a two-hour session conducted with simulated crowd noise blaring through the speakers. Head coach Ricklan Holmes gathers the players together for one final message, then dismisses the group.
Everyone hits the locker room, except for quarterback Greg Ward and his receivers, who take their positions near the end zone to begin running routes. There's still work to do.
Senior wide receiver Fred Ross is an active participant, running each route and making each catch with game-like precision.
The Oklahoma State-bound Ross is one of the top playmakers in the entire state with 76 catches for 1,462 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year. This coming on the heels of a junior campaign in which he posted 1,335 yards and 13 TDs.
John Tyler's 2011 season came to an end in the semifinal round, and Ross knew there was more he could do.
“Working on my route running and my blocking, and just little details," Ross said of his offseason focus. "We did a lot of 7-on-7. And afterwards we’d be on the field working on our routes, doing tennis ball drills, cone drills, working on our footwork.”
But Ross wasn't simply satisfied with the physical aspect.
“Understanding of the game, knowing where he needs to be for the quarterback to be successful, understanding that everything that we do works together," JT coach Ricklan Holmes said when asked where his star receiver has shown the most improvement. "He has his own part to do, and as long as he does his part well, everybody feeds off of that."
Ross (6-1, 185) worked to correct his physical and mental approach. Then came an area that never shows up on the stat sheet.
“Last year I didn’t really say too much, I was just a leader by actions," Ross said. "This year I’ve been working on being more of a vocal leader, so I can get through to my teammates a lot better.”
Ross said his route running, ball skills, mental approach and leadership style have improved immensely. But it's what he does after the catch that separates Ross from his contemporaries.
“That’s a game changer," Holmes said. "Knowing how dependable he is, knowing that anytime you throw the ball in his vicinity, 90 percent of the time he’s going to catch it. What he’s going to do after is amazing.”
Ross credits much of his success to his quarterback Ward, whose ability to scramble away from pressure allows the receiver more time to get open.
“It’s real nice having Greg back there," he said. "There’s a lot of times where you think he’s going to get sacked, but he scrambles out of it and finds an open receiver for a touchdown. It’s great knowing you have somebody like that back there with great escape capability.”
The duo has connected for more than 30 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but that doesn't come close to how many Ward and Ross team up for when no one's watching.
“We’ve got real good chemistry," Ross said. "We’re always together. I pick him up and he picks me up on the weekends. We’re always hanging around each other. Me and Greg, we’ve got a real good connection.”
Ross is coming off his best game of the season, coming down with 13 catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns last week in the Lions' 38-24 regional final victory over Frisco Centennial -- all while spending much of the night matched up against Centennial cornerback and TCU pledge Ranthony Texada.
“Every game I go into I feel like I’ve got to make plays no matters who’s across from me or what the matchup is," Ross said. "I don’t really like to get into the one-on-one thing because it’s a team game. I just do anything to help my team win, no matter if I have 12 catches or three catches. A win is a win.”
With one more of those, the Lions will be in the state championship game for the first time since 2000. A talented Denton Guyer squad is the only thing that stands in the way.
“They’re real sound on defense, they don’t make a lot of mistakes," Ross said of Guyer. "They all swarm to the ball and the same with our defense, they like to make plays. They live off the big play. They’ll get an interception and come back out and they’re even hungrier.”
Twelve months after having their season cut short in the semifinals, Ross believes the Lions are a different team than the one that took the field at this time last year.
“We’re a lot more mature," he said. "Last year, we’d get down in a game a lot of people would put their heads down. This year if we get down, everybody’s still level-headed. We still feel like we can come back in a ballgame at any time. We just don’t give up, we’re relentless.”
John Tyler (13-1) and Denton Guyer (12-2) meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday from MISD Multi-Purpose Stadium in Midlothian. The winner will face either Georgetown (14-0) or Leander Rouse (10-4) in the state final set for noon Saturday (Dec. 22) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.