Once UB played Boise Ross four games into his true freshman season, his ascent up the depth chart loomed. Surely the Bulls could make use of his speed. Surely they could benefit from his athleticism. And surely they needed to have a top receiver in training in preparation for the graduation loss of their two main receivers, Alex Neutz and Fred Lee.
Ross made his way into the starting lineup and was brought along slowly, running a reverse here and catching a slant there. And then Tuesday night at Toledo, with the scoreboard forcing UB’s offense to the air, Ross began to emerge. He caught five balls for 54 yards with a long of 17.
Ross, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver from Bethlehem, Pa., began opening eyes in during the summer, including those of his quarterback. Joe Licata remembers one play in particular that told him the new kid might be a freshman but he possessed knowledge beyond his years.
“I saw a corner playing a certain way with bail coverage and I threw the ball back shoulder and I didn’t know if he was going to react to it,” Licata said of Ross. “But he did. He made the play. Back left corner actually. And from then on I knew that he was going to be a stud. That made me believe that he could think well on his feet, that he’s athletic enough to make that play and that he has football intelligence.”
Head coach Jeff Quinn never redshirts freshmen so long as the season’s in progress. He urges the newcomers to practice with a purpose every day and expect that the team will need them at some point. Ross, who had hoped to make an instant impact, took the advice. He wanted to play. And to play he needed to apply himself.
“I talked to my family and they were like, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just go out there work hard and have fun. It’s going to be tough, you’re the youngest, and you got to go out there and show yourself.’ And that’s what I tried to do, day in and day out, try to get better each and every day. And that’s what coach forces, he says get better that day, the next day, next play, every day.”
Quinn’s philosophy is that nothing’s given, everything is earned. When it became apparent Ross had a handle on the offense, he moved into the starting spot that had been held by John Dunmore.
“It was an exciting experience,” Ross said. “It was humbling because coach was like, ‘You’re a leader now. You got to step up and show that you can take this role and assume this role.’ That’s what I’ve really been focusing on, working on getting in the weight room, getting in the film room.”
“Now that I’m a starter I got to watch everything. I’m not taking a back seat anymore. I got to look at what people are doing, look at the cornerbacks. That would have been the main thing that I was trying to focus on when I first got the starting position.”
Ross has the benefit of two seniors starters in Neutz and Lee showing him the ropes.
“I watch film by myself too,” Ross said. “But when I’m in the film room with them they’re like, ‘You see how he’s playing this, he’s playing that?’ I’m not new to this but I’m new to the college feel to it. They’re like, ‘This is how this corner plays all the time.’ They know it. They’ve been doing it for four years. Getting information from them and picking their brains as much as I can, that’s just a great experience.”
Ross has seven catches for 74 yards and has carried twice for 14 yards. He’s also returned five kickoffs for a team-best 24.4-yard average. He’s provided a glimpse of what the future holds, especially with Licata just a sophomore.
“It’s been a great experience,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s really a family here. it’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to what’s next.”
It’s looking doubtful that linebacker Adam Redden (knee) will be cleared to play at Miami Tuesday. More likely, the Bulls will shoot to have him ready for the Black Friday game against Bowling Green that will decide the Mid-American Conference East championship.