COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After graduating last December with his communications degree in tow, Maryland senior running back Brandon Ross had some time to ponder his future. Ideally, he’d love to play professionally, either in the NFL or Canada, after leaving College Park. Then, eventually, he wants to be a coach, perhaps taking the reigns at a high school program and building it into a power. At the same time, Ross is also pursuing an athletic training certificate, which he said will “open a lot of doors for me.”
But those are future endeavors, tabled for the time being until his college career is completed this fall. Fact is, Ross’ time at Maryland has been marked by fits and starts, a few flashes of greatness (see: 90 yard touchdown catch against Syracuse last year; 169 all-purpose yards against UVA in 2013; 108 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers last year) mixed in with some definite downers (see: two fumbles against South Florida; consecutive weeks worth of low rushing totals/averages).
He has one more shot to put together a complete campaign, and you can be sure he’s well aware time is running out.
“Ever since the winter, it’s just working out and grinding. It’s all football; no more school,” said the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Ross, who rushed for 419 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and four touchdowns in 2014. “It’s gotta be that way, man, it’s gotta be. I’m locked in; nothing else is important. Just football.”
That’s been readily apparent during fall camp. Ross has been the offense’s tempo setter, busting out big runs; grinding out tough yards; and even showing off his hands in the passing game. His vision is improved, his ball security in-check, his strength increased. During both of Maryland’s scrimmages this August he’s been the offense’s bulwark, racking up yards inside the tackles and out, while scoring a couple touchdowns to boot.
Indeed, the Delaware native is carrying the ball with a purpose, earning the praise of head coach Randy Edsall and the rest of the team.
“There’s something different about him,” Edsall said. “I see a different Brandon Ross. Whatever he did, whether it’s physically, mentally -- I like what he’s done. To me he’s a different guy this preseason. Maybe it’s because it’s his last go-around. But he’s working hard, he’s being productive, he’s seeing things, he’s running with great vision, and doing the things necessary in order to put himself in the position he has.
“He’s stronger, more decisive and I think he has a really good understanding of what’s happening in front of him… He’s playing with a lot of confidence too. He’s a much more confident running back than what I saw [previously].”
That’s for sure. Ross said his offseason workouts, coupled with instruction from new running backs coach Terry Richardson, have aided him tremendously. While Ross wouldn’t say he ran timidly in years past, he admitted he hasn’t always lived up to expectations – both his own and his coaches’.
Last year, for example, Ross clearly recalled each of his four fumbles, each resonating maybe even more than his six total touchdowns.
“Two against South Florida, one against Penn State, one against Stanford,” Ross said, rattling off the fumbles. “That has to stop. You can’t have that. Coach Rich [Richardson] always preaches tuck [the ball] in, high and tight, two hands on the ball.”
For the last eight months, Ross did something about those fumbles -- and the rest of his game for that matter.
During the winter, Ross pulled on a weighted vest and some resistance pads and began running up and down a frozen Maryland practice field. Later, when he returned to Delaware in the summer, he did the same, sometimes adding hills and ankle weights to increase his conditioning even more.
“That way,” Ross said, “I won’t be tripped up as easily.”
Ross worked out with his younger brother, Terps’ cornerback Jarrett Ross, as well as several other college players from back home, all meeting each morning at a local field to grind through a series of drills. Then, when Ross returned to College Park, he spent extra time in 7-on-7 drills running routes and catching passes. Ross pulled down 14 passes last year and said he wants to raise that number significantly in 2015.
“Brandon’s doing real good,” fullback Kenny Goins said. “He’s breaking a lot of runs, making great reads, catching well, seeing his blocks well. He’s done a lot of ball security things, and he’s really been focusing on that this year. You can tell he’s put the time in and really listened to the coaching.”
Yes, Ross and the rest have readily taken to Richardson’s coaching methods. The senior back said the unit as a whole has grown “a lot” this summer, heaping most of the praise on UMD’s new assistant.
“[Richardson] has simplified the plays and the reads .. and he’s just been great for our mentality -- we talk about life sometimes,” Ross said. “But mainly it’s just been about simplifying things. He’s been great for us.
“And as far as the backs go, we all got stronger in the weight room and we’re firing off the ball. We’re ready. We just need to have each individual player knowing their assignments and plays, and we feel like we can get four, five yards a play. Right now we’re looking real good. Each of us with me, Wes [Brown], Ty [Johnson], Joe [Riddle], we have our own skill-set we bring to the game. It’s a well-balanced group.”
Ross preferred to talk more about the backs as a group rather than his personal goals. That said, he acknowledged it’s his time to seize control and become a true lead runner. One of his main goals is to spark a rushing attack that gained just 3.7 yards per carry and 122 yards per game last season.
“Definitely I want to be the one who makes sure we’re on pace every play,” Ross said. “We didn’t run the ball too well last year. We were OK, but our production was kind of low, and I want to change that this year.”
In addition to his running prowess this summer, Ross has actively played the role of a fifth-year senior. He realizes it’s on him to set the example, both through his play and his words.
“I’m an older player now; guys are going to rely on my energy, my passion and what I do on the field,” Ross said. “After each play I try to give a guy a high-five and pump them up a little bit. I try to be a teacher.
“And, really, one player can change an offense like we saw with Stefon Diggs. We fed off his energy. So I feel like if I can be the guy my teammates feed off this year we can be a talented offense.”
Said Goins: “Brandon has always been a leader. That’s just sort of who he is. He’s really helped me get to where I need to be in terms of learning the calls and setting an example. He’s someone guys [in the backfield] follow.”
If all goes well, Ross said he’d love to hit the 1,000-yard mark during his final season. But his No. 1 focus is becoming a versatile, all-around runner who helps the team in every aspect. Hopefully, Ross said, it will lead to plenty of Big Ten victories.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Ross said. “Have to get it done now. This is it for me. Have to get it done.”
Ross Setting The Pace In Fall Camp
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