Anyone could see the congratulations that poured into John Ross III’s Twitter feed after he posted his record-breaking 4.22-second 40-yard dash last month.
Deion Sanders said he was proud of him. Michael Vick, using the eyes emoji, told him “speed can take you a long way in this league.” Former record holder Chris Johnson sent four ‘100’ emojis. And Bo Jackson, mythologized today to have run a 4.12 40, couldn’t help himself when he wrote “welcome to the 4.22 & under club.”
Ross swears life hasn’t changed all that much for him in the weeks since he ran the fastest official 40-yard dash with modern timing. It’s not like he can’t walk outside without being hounded, he says.
Though there was the security guard at a Trey Songz concert recently who noticed Ross and talked to him for 20 minutes. And Nike sent him a pair of its $720 self-lacing shoes. And on Monday, the former University of Washington receiver was introduced at the Mariners’ home opener.
No matter what, though, there’s always the island question.
“Every time I meet someone or someone comes up to me,” Ross says, “it’s, ‘Why didn’t you run in adidas?’”
The apparel company’s campaign offering an island to whomever broke Johnson’s record while wearing adidas shoes worked, even if some of the fine print on the deal got overlooked. Ross’s friends and former Washington teammates rib him constantly about his missing island, but he’s loyal to Nike and has no regrets.
Private island or not, Ross should have solidified his first-round status with the run. He was thought to be one of the top three receivers in the draft—along with Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis—before the combine, but the reports that he was scheduled to have labrum surgery could have put enough doubt in the minds of NFL personnel. Then he ran a 4.22 in Indianapolis, suggesting that there’s no defender in the league today (and possibly only Sanders, ever) who could cover the 5' 11" Ross on a go-route.
His visits are already wrapped up. Ross met with the Browns, Ravens, Titans and Eagles but couldn’t work out for them while recovering from the March 14 surgery. He’s rehabbing every day and says he should be cleared by late July.
Today Ross, who dealt with injuries to both knees in college, admits the shoulder threw him off slightly during his record run. Couple that with how he started cramping in his calves before his run and his 4.22 may have been even lower.
“That’d be hard to say. I felt like I could have ran in the 4.1s,” Ross said. “I think I definitely could have gone faster if everything was right.”
Tales of Ross’s speed go back to his youth. There’s the popular story he tells about making his brother and cousin collide in backyard football while trying to cover him. In kickball, he was always an inside-the-park-home-run threat. And there was no bigger waste of his time than after school in fifth grade.
“There would be kids from all over the community and come from different schools to come race me all the time,” Ross said. “I would hate it because the kids would be slow. And there were guys faster than them at my school but they didn’t want to race them. They wanted to race me.”
Ross has long bristled at the notion of being a “track guy” more than a football player. He caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season for the Huskies, and track guys aren’t usually that productive. Plus, he never devoted himself to track like he has football.
As a sophomore and junior in high school, Ross didn’t really practice for track; he simply showed up on meet days and raced. He has only one year of real track experience, and that was his senior year in 2013, when he took it slightly more seriously but never learned good track form.
That year, Ross ran in California’s Southern Section Division I 100-meter finals. Myles Valentine, now a sprinter at the University of Miami, won the race with a time of 10.48. Ross came in third at 10.72. He believes it’s the last race he lost.
Ross doesn’t think his 4.22 record will stay forever. Players are getting faster and training is getting better, so one day—hopefully later rather than sooner—his record will fall.
Most NFL veterans say that after the combine or pro day, they gladly never ran the 40 again. But Ross isn’t ready to swear that.
“It depends on if one of these younger kids come try me and I’m feeling good,” Ross said.
Life may be different now for the combine record-holder, but he’ll still race you like he’s back in fifth grade.