UW’s big-play receiving threat says he needs to become a better route-runner to augment his speed.
John Ross III, who ran 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Husky Spring Combine in March, is the fastest player on the Washington football team.
But DeSean Jackson, the three-time Pro Bowl receiver, told Ross something that’s given him a new perspective on his blazing abilities.
“I learned things from him and it’s taken my game to a new level,” said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ross. “He told me things like understand that you’re the fastest player on the field, but you don’t have to use that speed all the time. …
“Sometimes you have to slow down and run routes.”
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Sounds simple, but truth be told Ross, a fourth-year junior receiver, had never thought about slowing down until he worked out this summer with Jackson, a fellow Los Angeles native.
“I used to think that all I had was speed,” Ross said. “If I’m faster than the guy in front of me, then I’m going to win every time. But that’s what the DBs have already identified me as – the fast guy.
“So they’re trying to take away the fast part of my game. … I can’t be a guy out there running fast and catching passes. I’ve got to learn how to be a receiver. And to be honest, I’m nowhere close to where I need to be with that.”
During an injury-plagued, roller-coaster career at UW, Ross has held many titles.
As a freshman in 2013, he was an explosive slot receiver in a crowded stable of pass-catchers that included Kevin Smith, Kasen Williams and Jaydon Mickens.
Ross enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore in 2014 — coach Chris Petersen’s first season at UW — when he starred on offense, defense and special teams. He scored seven touchdowns (four receiving, two kickoff returns and one rushing) on plays of 100, 96, 91, 86, 75, 55 and 20 yards — an average of 75 yards per scoring play. Ross started three games at receiver and four at cornerback when the Huskies were depleted in the secondary.
He sat out and redshirted the 2015 season due to surgeries to repair a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee and a meniscus tear in his right knee.
The time away from football forced Ross to focus on what’s important to him. He made sure he was fully healthy and mentally ready before returning to the field again.
“I think that’s why I tore my ACL,” he said. “When I came back from my right knee, I was thinking about not landing on my right knee when I jumped and — bam — I blew out my left knee.
“Now unless somebody brings it up, I don’t even think about it (the knee injuries). I feel as good as I did since I was a freshman.”
The next step in Ross’ development is becoming a consistent contributor in a passing game that ranked ninth in the Pac-12 last season while averaging just 239.2 yards a game.
“I don’t view him as a guy who’s just a speed guy,” UW receivers coach Bush Hamdan said. “I really don’t. I told him that in the spring, and I’m seeing him get better at the technical stuff — the releases, route-running, blocking, all those different things. We’ve just got to continue to take the next step.”
Ross is working with his third quarterback in sophomore Jake Browning and understands their chemistry needs to grow organically.
He doesn’t want to rush the process, but in 3½ weeks Washington starts the season Sept. 3 against Rutgers.
The screen saver on Ross’ iPhone counts down the days, minutes and seconds until UW’s opener. It even displays the Scarlet Knights’ mascot and plays the school’s fight song — a constant reminder to the most anticipated day since his recovery began in April of 2015.
“I’m probably not going to be able to sleep the day before the game because I’m so excited,” Ross said. “I want to fast-forward and hurry up and get there already, but then I know I’ve got to slow down and put the work in now so I’ll be ready.”