SEATTLE – The process, like the John Ross highlight reel, tended to repeat itself whenever a college football recruiter would come into Thomas Barnes’ coach’s office at Long Beach (Calif.) Jordan High.
The recruiter would sit down, watch a few of Ross’ long kickoff returns and, inevitably, turn to Barnes: “Coach, I’ve seen enough.”
In Ross’ three seasons at Jordan, Barnes estimates that the slightly-built wide receiver returned “at least” 20 kickoffs for a touchdown.
“I mean, it gets boring watching kickoff after kickoff after kickoff,” Barnes said, chuckling.
The 5-foot-11, 173-pound freshman will play – and perhaps even start – in his first college game Saturday night against No. 19 Boise State. But as the reopening of Husky Stadium gets closer, UW coach Steve Sarkisian says he is reluctant to give Ross too much too soon.
To which Barnes responds, “Why?”
“Go ahead,” Barnes says. “He’s a special kid. He’s not going to disappoint you.”
To the left of Ross’ station in one corner of UW’s new locker room is junior middle linebacker John Timu, a team captain and fellow Jordan product. Timu was on the sideline Oct. 8, 2010, when Ross, then a sophomore, helped Jordan rally from a 12-point deficit with 88 seconds left to beat rival El Toro 22-20.
First, Ross returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown (yawn). After a successful onside kick, Jordan scored on a long touchdown pass to tie the score at 20. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Ross took a handoff on a reverse, juked a defender “out of his shoes,” as Barnes recalled, and scored to give the Panthers an improbable win.
“It was awesome,” Timu said, adding: “When he first came to Jordan, people didn’t believe the hype he had. They kind of underestimated his speed. … It was crazy the … difference he made.”
A few years later, Ross is said to be the fastest player on the UW roster. Sarkisian, on his radio show this week, went so far to say that Ross is the fastest player he has coached since Reggie Bush. And as impressive as Ross has been in jumping into the mix as the co-starter at slot receiver, he’ll likely have the chance to make his biggest difference as a punt returner.
Ross and Timu remain close. Yes, the linebacker who makes a living, if you will, taking down skill players is doing his best to lift up this young receiver from the same neighborhood in greater Los Angeles.
Said Timu, “I tell him every day, ‘Just relax. Go in your own comfort zone and play ball. … It’s going to be real loud (in the stadium), and everybody’s watching you. You be the show for them.’ ”
“Every time he has the ball in his hands,” said senior quarterback Keith Price, “you kind of hold your breath because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
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