John Ross III left a sizeable imprint on Football America over the weekend.
On Saturday, the wide receiver and potential first-round pick out of the University of Washington broke Chris Johnson’s modern NFL Combine record by running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash.
Before he was catching footballs in the Pac-12 or staking his claim as perhaps the fastest man to ever enter the NFL, though, Ross was running track at Jordan High in Long Beach, Calif.
“He was a great kid, and of course a great sprinter,” said Barry Welsch, Ross’ former track coach at Jordan. “You could always count on him come meet time. We had a lot of other football players who ran well in track. None were as good as him, though.”
“We’re all proud of John,” said Pam Marshall, a former U.S. track star who was Ross’ sprinting coach at Jordan. “With what he’s doing, the kids at our school now see that they’re capable of doing great things, too.”
In high school, Ross had personal bests of 10.66 seconds in the 100 meters and 21.56 in the 200 meters. Having seen these performances in person didn’t keep Welsch from stopping in his tracks once he heard Ross had broken the 40 record set by Chris Johnson in 2008 (4.24).
Then, the coach actually saw the 40 that has been played on a loop on computers nationwide.
“I was shocked. It surprised me,” Welsch said. “That’s a blazing time, obviously. Then when I watched it, when it popped up on my screen, I’m going, ‘He can run faster than that.’ ”
You read that right. “He can run faster than that.”
Welsch’s hunch wasn’t only his own.
“Then I read some of the comments (Ross) made about his calves tightening up toward the end. Even though he broke the record, on those last few strides, I could tell from a track coach’s point of view it wasn’t a run he’d be fully happy with.”
Ross will not make the NFL only based on his wheels, of course. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound dynamo caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Huskies in 2016.
Welsch made a point to see Ross play whenever he could.
“I’m a UCLA alum, and my kids are both (Cal) Berkeley alums, so we are partial to the Pac-12,” he said. “Whenever John was on TV, I’d try to catch it, sometimes when he was running back a kickoff or a punt.”
Ross, like most college students, got bigger when he left high school. That he got faster surprised his former coach.
“He’s just a natural born fast individual,” Welsch said. “He has the DNA, just a fast kid. And what amazes me most is how much he’s kept his speed while bulking up. It’s impressive.”
Ross will be the third Jordan track and field alum to play in the NFL, joining former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown and former Cardinals and Jets safety Marcus Turner.
Ross will likely be the first first-round pick to come out of Jordan, though.
“He always did what you asked,” said Welsch, who was also a history teacher at the school and is now the president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB).
Ross’ former sprinting coach echoed those sentiments.
“John is just a hard worker, a humble kid,” Marshall said. “If he wants something, he goes for it. It’s not just his talent doing the work.”
Until Ross graduated in 2013, the Jordan meets were must-see events. Not only was Ross setting school records, but so was Marshall’s daughter, La Troya Franklin. On the same day, they each set the school record in the 100 meters.
“You don’t always see a high school principal come to a track meet on a Friday night,” Welsch said.
Welsch recalled one instance from Ross’ high school days that stands out. For the elite Southern California Masters meet, a race of the nine fastest runners in SoCal, Ross was the 10th qualifier. After a runner dropped out the day before the meet, Welsch went into a classroom and asked Ross if he’d want to race on short notice.
“He said, ‘Sure, no problem,’ “ said the former coach. “That’s his competitive nature. He hadn’t been working out all week, but wanted to be a part of that.”
Ross finishing middle of the pack in the meet, as Welsch recalled, but improved on his 100-meter time.
“He didn’t even blink,” Welsch said.
Blink, and you missed Ross’ 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. The same may be said on draft day.