Long before Grant Ross was the leader of Air Force’s defense and its lone returning starter, he was a recruit with a major decision to make.
Should he go with the academy, the first team to target him? Or should he take the late offer from TCU and play in the Big 12?
“There were many factors,” Ross said on an early evening from the Air Force practice fields, looking out at the mountains. “Those are a factor.”
Maybe the biggest factor was the opportunity that will come beyond his playing career. Since his first dissection in middle school, Ross wanted to be a doctor. When his father underwent a triple-bypass when Ross was in eighth grade, he knew he wanted to be a heart surgeon.
He never wavered from that goal.
“That doctor saved my dad’s life,” Ross said. “So I’d like to save other people’s lives.”
Ross could have studied biology at TCU or Air Force, but the academy offered the incentive of potentially paying for medical school. Ross knows it’s no guarantee he’ll get a medical school slot, which requires a 3.5 GPA that he doesn’t quite have. However, he could serve two years on active duty and apply at that point. His goal hasn’t changed. He’s toured military hospitals on bases in Denver and San Antonio and knows he’d love to work there.
Again, this wasn’t the singular item that sold him. But it was a factor.
And, maybe at TCU, Ross wouldn’t have burst into a starting role as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound middle linebacker enters his senior with year 130 career tackles, four sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
He’ll never know how things might have turned out if all those factors hadn’t led him to Colorado Springs, but he has no interest in wasting time considering what might have been.
“I always feel like if you think about things like that, you push yourself back,” Ross said. “Since high school I’ve been loving this place and loving the people I’ve been around. I’m so thankful, being part of the Air Force football team. Who knows what would’ve happened. I’m blessed to be part of this team and to be where I’m at.”
The Falcon are happy he’s here, too, particularly in a year with so much turnover on defense.
“If you’re going to have a returning starter, I do think it does help that it’s an inside backer to help the guys up front, to help the guys back behind,” coach Troy Calhoun said.
Calhoun said he knew Air Force had something special in Ross both when he stuck with his Air Force commitment after TCU made its late offer, and when he observed Ross’s attitude in his year at the prep school. Some preppies do what they can to survive that year and get into the academy, but Calhoun said Ross brought an attitude of one who wanted to thrive.
“He does have a pretty special drive about him,” he said.
Ross is the lone regular returning to a defense that was stout against the run – ranking 15th nationally – but was 54th in scoring defense. On five occasions the defense gave up 34 or more points.
So, this new unit will have its work cut out to match the production from a year ago; but at the same time they won’t be tasked with matching an unrealistic standard.
And will this player in the middle – one with talent sought by a Power Five program – be the difference in making that happen?
It remains to be seen. But he’ll be a factor.