Nashville Tigers: Steven Ross

<b>Editor's Note: This is the third of a four-part series of articles on Auburn's four redshirt football freshmen from Nashville, Tenn.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--After spending last fall on the scout team and most of spring training on the rehab list, Steven Ross is probably as eager as any player on the 2002 Auburn University football team to get two-a-days started.

He says that anticipation outweighs any apprehension about coming back from injury or about what position he will play this season. Hugh Nall, who coaches the offensive line, says that Ross might be a tackle, or possibly a guard--even a center.

"I don't really know where I will play this season," Ross says. "I was a tackle at the start of spring practice. When I got hurt, Coach Nall started teaching me guard and center, with more time spent on center. I will be able to play more than one position, which I don't mind at all and enjoy doing. I think it gives me a better opportunity to play."

Steven Ross

Ross, like most of the returning Tigers, is taking classes at Auburn this summer and preparing for the 2002 season. He works out in the weight room, runs and does other conditioning drills and works out with his fellow offensive linemen several times a week.

"I am back to full speed now, but I am still rehabbing," Ross says. "The injury happened back on March 5th, the first day in pads. I fractured my fibula and sprained my MCL. It took until almost the end of May before I was back. I can do most everything again. They are still trying to hold me back from doing certain things in the weight room and that is fine, but I have been going pretty hard to get ready for the season for about a month now. My leg is feeling good.

"It hurt me to not be able to practice in the spring so two-a-days are going to be important," Ross notes. "They are important to everybody, but they will be crucial to me because I missed spring practice."

Ross remembers exactly what happened when he was injured at the practice in March. "I was blocking my guy and the running back was coming toward my side and got tripped. He fell forward and his head hit the back left side of my left leg and it folded it up underneath me. It just kind of pinned me to the ground. I was hurting pretty bad. I tried to get up, but I couldn't do it. I tried to hobble a little bit, but I just couldn't do it so they took me to the hospital and I got X-Rayed and everything. I spent the rest of the spring rehabbing."

The injury was a tough break in more ways than one for the redshirt freshman. With 2001 senior starters Kendall Simmons, Hart McGarry and Mike Pucillo needing to be replaced, missing most of spring drills put Ross behind in the competition for a starting job. "We are going to miss the leadership we got from those seniors, but it does offer a good opportunity for the younger guys to get a chance to play with three starters leaving," Ross says. "It is not like those jobs are just there for the taking. You are going to have to work hard for them."

A three-year starter in high school at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Ross was a key performer on a 15-0 state championship his senior year. A standout on offense and defense, he was a two-time Tennessee All-State pick. He was runnerup for the Division I Mr. Football Award for linemen as a junior and won the honor his senior season when CPA went distance as an unbeaten team.

Ross is also predicting a winning fall for his current team. "I think we are going to have a real good season," he says. "We have got two new coordinators in Coach (Bobby) Petrino and Coach (Gene) Chizik. They are great. You know the defense loves Coach Chizik from what they are saying and from the tempo and attitude they had in spring training. Our offensive coordinator is just as good. I mean he really knows his stuff. Whether or not we can have a good season will depend on how quickly we can get good at doing what the coordinators have for us.

"We have to gel as an offense," Ross adds. "I felt like we had a good spring overall, but we did have some injuries and the offense is always going to be a little slower coming along than the defense. If we can be completely ready by Sept. 1st going into that game on Sept. 2nd we will be in great shape. Coach Petrino has had some No. 1 offenses and Coach Chizik has got those guys flying around. It is an exciting thing to see. We have a lot of young talent. I am excited to see what happens."

Auburn tight end Cooper Wallace, a fellow redshirt freshman, played with Ross at Christ Presbyterian and two other redshirt freshmen, offensive lineman Taylor Bourgeois and fullback Jake Slaughter, are also from Nashville. "I don't know how much we actually talk about it, but it is something we know and appreciate," Ross says. "It is cool to have three other guys from Nashville on the team--a teammate from high school and two guys I knew from high school. It is a pretty big deal. Now that Jake has been moved from defense to fullback, we are all on the offense. That is going to be pretty cool. All of us have opportunities going into two-a-days. It depends on us. We have all been working hard."

Steven Ross practices his snaps with quarterback Wesley Hill during spring drills.

Wallace, his teammate at CPA, committed to the Tigers very early in the recruiting process after standing out at a summer football camp at Auburn. Ross says Wallace's decision did not have an influence on what college he selected. "Not really," Ross says. "I didn't want to base my decision on that. I knew college was going to be a big change from high school. I looked around and visited a lot of places and I really liked the coaching staff here in Auburn. Obviously, that is not a great thing to base your decision on because coaching staffs can change at the drop of a hat in college.

"I felt like Coach Nall was going to be here to stay and that was a big thing for me because I knew the way he recruited me and the way he talked about the offensive line that he knew what he was talking about, he was going to be a great teacher, a motivator and a great person to play for. I chose this place because I felt like Auburn was the place for me with great academics and a great football program. I also found the great academics and great football with certain other schools, but none of the schools felt like a fit for me until I got here."

Ross also considered Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Ole Miss, LSU and hometown Vanderbilt before deciding to head south to Auburn with three other Nashville prep stars.

Slaughter, Bourgeois, Wallace and Ross are friends at Auburn as well as teammates. Slaughter was a two-way star at Brentwood Academy as a fullback/linebacker and Bourgeois was a defensive and offensive line star, also at Brentwood Academy. "I didn't know Jake very well when I was in high school, but I actually played on a junior pro basketball team with Taylor in fourth grade and had known him a little bit from that," Ross says. "Once he committed to Auburn, I think I committed a week later. All four of us had a speed trainer that we worked with up in Nashville to improve our footwork and conditioning. We worked with the trainer all spring and in parts of the summer so that was a good opportunity to get to know those guys better."

Prior to arriving at Auburn, the quartet played together in the Tennessee vs. Kentucky All-Star Game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Each of the future Tigers played very well that day.

Ross has been working hard at putting on additional muscle and weight since arriving on campus. "I weighed 265 pounds the summer of my senior year in high school, but I lost 14 pounds by the end of the season," Ross remembers. "I weighed 250 when I got here a year ago and I have gained 30 pounds since then. I am 280 now and want to get to 290 by August. I kind of fluctuate a lot. I was 282 to 283 a couple of days ago. I will drop down to 277 and then go back up."

Nall says that if Ross is going to play tackle, he definitely needs to add a lot more weight because players in that position in the SEC routinely weigh more than 300 pounds. Head coach Tommy Tuberville agrees that Ross needs to add weight, but says he likes the redshirt freshman's versatility. "Steven can play center, guard or tackle and I am looking forward to seeing him get back out there after being injured in the spring," Tuberville says.

When asked if he has a position he prefers to play, Ross says, "Not really. It just doesn't matter to me. I don't really have a preference. Center is the more mentally challenging position because you have to know what the other players are doing as well as what you are doing and you have to be able to communicate to all of the other players on the line. That would be a fun position to play, but I am really open to anything."

Steven Ross is shown during a summer workout at the indoor practice facility.

Tiger Ticket Extra: One reason Ross says he feels confident with handling three positions in college is that he has a strong background in offensive line play. He says by the time he was a senior at Christ Presbyterian Academy, he never had to ask a question about what he was supposed to be doing on any particular play. "Our coaches were a step ahead of the coaches friends of mine had around the Mid-State area," Ross tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I felt like our coaches really prepared us mentally for the game. I didn't feel like I had to learn a whole lot when I got to college other than the terminology. I am sitting where I am now because of the coaching I had in high school. It was a great situation I was in."...In addition to being a strong blocker at CPA, Ross also was a major contributor at defensive end. He was credited with 119 tackles and five sacks as a senior. On offense, he did not allow a sack as a junior or senior...Ross was also an outstanding baseball pitcher. In the classroom, he was an honor student and a participant in the National Science Olympiad...Ross says winning the school's first football state title as a senior is something that he will remember. "That whole thing was just a great experience. We made the third round of the playoffs a couple of times before my senior year when we put it all together and went 15-0." His high school head coach, David Pack, says the Tigers signed two good athletes from his school in Wallace and Ross. Commenting on Ross, Pack says, "He has great feet for a lineman and is a good athlete. I expect him to grow into a 290-pounder who will still have a lot of quickness. He should be able to run a 4.85 or 4.9 even at that size. He is a very smart football player who did a great job for us. He played offensive tackle as a sophomore and junior before we moved him to guard to take advantage of his quickness to pull."

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