COLUMBIA, Mo. — When he was looking for a place to play his final college season, Alex Ross looked to his past.
His best season at Oklahoma came back in 2014 when he rushed for 595 yards and four touchdowns on 88 carries over 13 games as a redshirt sophomore. He also caught 10 passes for another 65 yards and returned two kickoffs for scores.
The offensive coordinator for the Sooners that season was Josh Heupel, though it would turn out to be his final season at Oklahoma. Now, following a season at Utah State, Heupel is the new OC at Missouri and Ross, now a redshirt senior, is Missouri’s newest running back as a graduate transfer.
Asked why he ended up with the Tigers, Ross pointed to his new and former offensive coordinator.
“I feel like Coach Heupel is a real good guy and a great coach,” Ross said Thursday following the Tigers' first practice, “and I did well with him a long time ago and I had one more year.”
Missouri needed to strengthen its rushing attack and kick return unit going into the 2016 season and Ross, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, could help in both of those areas.
What does Heupel think Ross brings to Missouri?
“Fast. Strong. Explosive. Mature,” the Tigers’ offensive coordinator said. “Has the ability the to take it the distance when he’s got some open grass. He’s played at a high level. Played a lot of football. I think it’s a welcomed addition to our backfield.”
Asked to describe his strengths as a running back, Ross first pointed to the same thing Heupel pointed to first.
“Speed,” Ross said. “Get downhill. Physical when I need to be physical.”
Ross played in 36 games for the Sooners over three seasons, starting three, and rushed for 786 yards and five touchdowns on 123 carries, an average of 6.4 yards per carry. He added 66 yards on 11 receptions and averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return.
The Tigers struggled to run the ball a year ago. They gained just 1,385 yards on the ground, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and had just five rushing touchdowns.
“We’ve got a number of things in our program that we have to emphasize and rushing the football is definitely one of them,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “We have to do a great job as a coaching staff creatively finding ways to run the ball. It doesn’t have to be the tailback position or the quarterback position.
“It’s all 11 of them and then us together collectively as a staff on putting together a plan schematically on what our kids can do and absolutely if you’re able to run the ball then that opens up some other things for you.”
Ross has impressed his new head coach since arriving on campus this summer. Odom hasn’t seen much of Ross on the field yet, but he’s been around him enough to have a favorable impression.
“From the times you’re able to be around your kids during the summer you notice, No. 1, his work ethic,” Odom said. “He’s got a tremendous inner drive to be successful. That stands out. It’s pretty easy to see.”
“They all work hard,” Ross said. “We all work hard together as a team, as a running back squad, and that’s what you’ve got to do — keep pushing each other.”
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