When all is said and done, the Oklahoma Sooners’ biggest production at running back may come from the player with the smallest expectations.
In other words: Redshirt sophomore Alex Ross is poised to surprise a lot of people in 2014.
The low expectations for the Jenks, Oklahoma, native weren’t always the case. In fact, Ross was listed as a 4-star recruit coming out of Jenks High in 2012.
An Under Armour All-American, Ross boasted all the characteristics of a top-tier running back. Not to mention he possessed lightning-quick speed, having been crowned the 2011 Oklahoma 6A state champion in the 200-meter dash (21.97 seconds).
But it would be hard to gather that much from his first two years in Norman.
After redshirting in 2012, Ross began his freshman campaign on a high note, earning top-performer honors in the August scrimmage. However, he would spend the majority of the 2013 season on special teams while only rushing for 19 yards on three carries offensively.
But that was more so a result of his lack of maturity than it was about his physical readiness.
In the season opener, Ross received his first career carry late in the fourth quarter and showcased his potential on an 8-yard rush. But that wasn’t all he showed, as he finished the play by taking a swing at an opposing defender, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the process.
That didn’t sit right with head coach Bob Stoops, who promptly benched the young hothead.
In an interview earlier this month, Ross addressed his growing maturity, per ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon:
I paid my dues and waited my time. I felt like I needed time to get acclimated to everything around here. I feel like I’ve matured a little bit just in getting bigger and knowing what to do in my part.
It certainly appears that time has paid dividends.
Following Damien Williams' dismissal last year, Ross stepped up and really impressed the Oklahoma coaching staff during the bowl practices, per CBS Sports’ Chip Patterson. He’s also made an impact while sharing first-unit reps with Keith Ford this spring.
Quarterback Trevor Knight talked to The Oklahoman’s Ryan Aber about Ross' development:
Nobody is going to outwork him...In the weight room, he’s a beast; in any running drill, he’s going to finish first every single time. Getting those reps especially is helping him out a lot just getting comfortable with the offense, and when he gets his shot, he’s going to make some big plays.
Ross’ speed—he can run a 4.43 40—is especially surprising given his size. After gaining 13 to 15 pounds of muscle after his freshman year, he enters 2014 at 221 pounds.
Does Ross have the potential to break out in 2014?
Watching Ross' running style reminds one of Arian Foster.
“He’s doing a good job of running, finding holes, doing what he’s supposed to do, fewer mistakes, those kinds of things,” Stoops said via Aber. “He’s a big powerful guy when he gets loose.”
With Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay all gone, the Sooners will be without each of their top three running backs this season. That leaves a void for someone else to step in.
Ford and incoming 5-star prospect Joe Mixon both have the qualities and talent to wow fans and rack up numbers.
However, Ross could be the freight truck that defenders don’t see coming.
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