Oklahoma return man Ross among nation's best
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Alex Ross is hard to figure out off the field, and easy to understand on it.
Oklahoma's star return man is known for joking around in his sometimes strange interviews. In one session, he took reporters on a roller coaster ride in which he claimed he'd win the kicking job, had 95-yard field-goal capability and spent half his time practicing at quarterback. He's also known for his unique clothing style. He says his look is similar in ways to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
Perhaps the simplest thing about him grabs the most attention of all: his blazing speed. As a kickoff return man, he led the nation in yards per return for much of last season, and finished second with 31.2 yards per runback. He's a preseason All-Big 12 selection as a return man.
''There's always a point to where to hit the hole at,'' he said. ''We always have a designed hole to hit. It's just at what speed you hit it at. You hit it at full speed, you'll be straight. Some people don't understand that. It's just little things. Just hit it full speed, be decisive, and just run.''
Ross first drew attention with an 80-yard runback against Louisiana Tech last season that didn't quite go for a touchdown. He returned one 100 yards for a score late in the first half against West Virginia, then took one back 91 yards for a touchdown in a win over Texas.
Ross isn't a typical return man - he's a 220-pound running back with power to make arm tacklers pay. He rushed for 595 yards last season with a 6.8 yards per carry average, including an 82-yard score against Tulsa.
''Alex is one of those tough guys who is going to run through the tackles, and then, after he gets to the second level, he's going to give you that burst of speed, and you're not going to catch him,'' receiver Sterling Shepard said.
Ross' success makes him confident every time out.
''Before I go out there, I always build up the kickoff return team because they know if they hold blocks long enough, I'm getting through there,'' he said. ''I'm telling them before it happens, just get ready.''
Ross was successful as a return man and track sprinter in high school. As a junior at Jenks (Oklahoma), he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. In 2011, he was the Oklahoma Class 6A champion in the 200-meter run and was third in the 100 meters.
His confidence carries off the field, allowing him to have one of the most unique personalities on the team.
''He's a goofy guy,'' Shepard said with a laugh. ''He's a character. He's one to be around, for sure. He's a prankster, a jokester. But he's funny, though.''
He's also confident about Jenks.
''I learned the first day with Alex Ross,'' defensive end Charles Tapper, a Baltimore native, said, joking. ''Alex Ross preached Jenks football the first day since we got here. Jenks and those guys, they're just like Texas guys, they're so cocky. I get tired of hearing this cockiness from Jenks and the Texas guys.''
Whatever cockiness Ross might have, he has tools to back it up. He focused on agility work in the offseason to give himself more than the straight-line speed. He wants some opportunities to add to his accomplishments, starting with the opener Sept. 5 against Akron.
''I'm just hoping they kick it to me,'' he said. ''At the end of the year, they (opponents) started kicking pooches and doing all kinds of stuff to get it away from me. I just hope I get some.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .