When Ross Douglas chose a fresh start after three years at Michigan, he crossed paths with a familiar face on the way to his next destination.
Chris Ash recruited the Avon (Ohio) product when he was the Wisconsin defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He reached out after Douglas announced a decision to leave Ann Arbor, Mich. as a graduate transfer.
Soon enough, Douglas was on his way to Piscataway for his final two years of eligibility.
“I think (my relationship with Ash) was the main factor,” Douglas said. “I’ve known coach Ash for a long time and when I decided to transfer, he was one of the first guys to call me and (be) like, ‘what do we need to do to get you here?’ I’ve known coach Ash a long time and that was a big reason why I came to Rutgers.”
After Douglas' position switch from defensive back to running back as a redshirt freshman with Michigan in 2014, he was buried on the depth chart.
Douglas mustered just 18 yards on 10 carries during his tenure with the Wolverines — and that action only came last year in his six appearances.
Back on defense with an impact opportunity in Ash's secondary, the adjustment to Rutgers comes naturally for Douglas.
“The transition is a lot easier than I thought it would be,” he said. “It’s never easy transferring from one school to another because you leave behind your friends and the relationships you’ve made. For me, for the last three and a half years, I was at Michigan. But being around these guys (at Rutgers), being around Julian (Pinnix-Odrick), being around these teammates — it made my transition so much easier and it was a lot smoother than I expected.”
Behind sophomore starter Isaiah Wharton on the depth chart, the dynamic is different for Douglas. While he possesses more years around the Big Ten, Wharton maintains more on-field experience as the returning starter opposite of fellow sophomore Blessuan Austin.
Throughout the secondary room, though, Douglas said the dynamic with the younger defensive backs meshes well.
“I mean, every day we just go out to practice, put our best foot forward,” he said. “We compete against ourselves and we compete against each other, so that’s the big thing. I mean, just push each other. It’s not just me, Isaiah and Bless — it’s other guys. It’s Kobe (Marfo), it’s Damon (Hayes), it’s Jarius (Adams), it’s D’Won (Walker), it’s Brian Chase, it’s Sandy (Anya) — it’s everyone in the room. We all compete with each other and that’s just the biggest thing. We come out everyday and just try to get better than we were yesterday.”
Douglas said the press-man coverage and other concepts on defense were easy to pick up.
“The main thing that really sticks out about this staff is, man, they’re so football smart,” he said. “You’ve got coach (Jay) Niemann, coach Ash, coach (Bill) Busch, coach (Aaron) Henry — I mean, all of them … every defensive coach is just, they know football, they know what they’re doing, they know how they want to develop their players. They really have a plan for us and the scheme is very player-friendly, so they just want me to get the most out of everybody at every position.”
As Douglas awaits a true return to the field — the first two scrimmages of training camp are the closest to a game for him since last fall — his added nine pounds scratch the surface of his clean slate. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, he looks to emulate the cornerback physicality that the new Rutgers defense requires.
Outside of that, his goals for year one are simple.
“Everyday, I just have to be better than I was yesterday, I mean, and that will help me get to my personal goals,” Douglas said. “I just really have to be better than I was yesterday and be better tomorrow than I was today. So that’s all I can do — continue to put my best foot forward out there in practice and just continue to play football like I know how to.”