A video of Mississippi State’s Fred Ross leaping into the air, reaching behind him and making a one-handed catch against the Arkansas Razorbacks, set Twitter and Facebook abuzz immediately after the play. It was just another example of Ross’s athleticism during a junior season with 69 receptions, 816 yards and four touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State is bowl eligible with Ross and defeated Arkansas in a thriller 51-50 on Saturday.
Ross’s biography for Mississippi State lists him as an “explosive, versatile playmaker.” He saw playing time as a true freshman in 2013 with action in 11 games and finished the season with 115 yards. He was truly a standout, high school football star in Texas, a state that produces collegiate and professional football players like winter produces snowflakes in Michigan. He was a four-star recruit and First-Team Parade All-American at John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. Now in a starting role at a major SEC football program, Ross expresses gratitude for his opportunities at Mississippi State.
“It’s a great honor,” Ross said. “God helped me choose the right school, a school that’s going to work hard and (bring) relentless effort every time we hit the field. I’m blessed to be a part of such a program like this.”
Faith, family and academics are important to Ross. His connection to his hometown of Tyler, Texas is also an important aspect of his life. It was at John Tyler High School that he played with other standouts including University of Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.. The duo helped to lead John Tyler to the state high school football semi-finals in 2012. Ross said playing with the likes of Ward in high school and previous Heisman contender Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott helped to shape his playing ability.
“Dak, he’s a great quarterback,” Ross said. “Him and Greg really resemble each other a lot. They both kind of share the same qualities, that hard working attitude, want to be the best type of guys. Each is one of those guys that does whatever it takes to lead their team to victory. I’m blessed to play with both of those guys.”
It was also at John Tyler High School that Ross’s impact off the field became a vital characteristic of his personality. He was a member of the school’s speech team and through competitions and additional training after school formed a bond with teacher April Caldwell .
“Fred was just one of those students who worked hard and wanted to do well every time,” Caldwell said. “He was a different kind of student, sort of shy, but still wanted to participate. He was also very determined to get better. He’d ask, ‘What did I not do well?’ if he received a mark that he didn’t agree with. He’d always ask to improve. He wanted to know what he needed to do to get a better grade.”
Ross has become a mentor to Caldwell’s son, Cameron. Cameron was diagnosed with Nephrotic syndrome as an infant, a disease that affects the kidneys. He was four-years-old when he met Ross and began to look up to him.
“Fred always tried to be a role model to kids,” Caldwell said. “At pep rallies, at games, he would always stick around to talk to the kids and encourage them. He just really tried to interact with them.”
Caldwell said even now after a big game Ross calls and talks with Cameron. When he is home from college, he stops by for a visit. Ross and Ward Jr. even attended a birthday party for Cameron at the zoo.
Cameron follows every Mississippi State game whether he is in front of the television or not. He watches the game reports on his mother’s phone if they are away from the house and reports to her all of Ross’s big plays.
“He’s a friend and he’s my favorite football player,” Cameron said. “He’s nice and he plays football with me when I want him to.”
Cameron was not medically cleared to play organized football but he is able to play baseball. He wears jersey number 8, just like his friend and mentor Fred Ross.
“It means to the world to him,” April Caldwell said. “Cameron needs strong male figures and influences in his life. As a teacher and a mom, I’m just proud of Fred. He’s worked so hard and is really an amazing young man.”
Ross was named to the 2014 SEC Academic Honor Roll. He has his sights set on a future in the NFL but emphasized team accomplishments at Mississippi State first, such as winning the SEC championship and making the college football playoffs. Whatever is next for him, he is making sure he takes care of business in the classroom and on the field.
“It’s a great honor,” Ross said, “knowing every Saturday I get to go out and compete against the nation’s best. Hopefully we’ll get a ring. That’s the first goal and all the little things should take care of themselves.”