The road to the NFL is chock-full of roadblocks. This is especially true for small school prospects. But one standout senior receiver from Central State—a DII school in Ohio—is looking to overcome the odds.
Dayvon Ross has been faced with many backbreaking obstacles over the course of his life. He was raised by a single mother in a three-bedroom apartment with nine other siblings (six sisters, three brothers) in a rough neighborhood in South Los Angeles that was surrounded by drugs, gangs and the occasional middle-of-the-night police raid.
His pursuit of the NFL has also been plagued with hardship dating back to his high school days, when Ross played for three different coaches and won just two games in two years at Manual Arts. His production over his senior season—which included 67 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns—was a rare positive for a team that finished 0-10 and it earned him interest from the UCLA Bruins.
But after ultimately being ruled ineligible for missing some English courses, Ross attended L.A. Southwest College as a freshman. It was at this time that his daughter, Drew, was born. Working in a grocery store and raising a child took away from school and football, so Ross decided to transfer to the next year to East L.A. College to focus strictly on academics.
The University of Virginia offered him a scholarship and Ross committed to the ACC school, but yet another earth-shattering roadblock appeared in the form of the NCAA, which said some of online classes weren’t transferable.
After about a year and a half out of football, Ross thought his dream was dead. But he found the inner strength to keep it alive from two different sources.
“My daughter was a big part of me going back to play football,” Ross said in an exclusive interview with Gridiron Grit. ”It kind of motivated me. Having her and wanting her to have a better future. That was one thing and another thing was watching some of the guys that I played with in high school like Marqise Lee, Titus Young, Rahim Moore and D’Anthony Thomas really helped me want to get out there because we all basically played in the same conference [in high school] and I actually led that conference in catches and touchdowns and I kind of looked at it like if these guys can do it, I can do it also.”
USC star receiver Marqise Lee and Oregon star running back D’Anthony Thomas are both projected first-second round picks in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young and current Denver Broncos starting free safety Rahim Moore were both selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, Moore has told us he believes Ross should also go in the second round in May 2014.
At 6’2″, 215 pounds, Ross possesses the physical ability—not to mention strong work ethic and attention to detail—to turn his dream into a reality.
“I am a determined person. I won’t stop at nothing in life. So many people counted me out,” Ross told NFLDraftBlitz.com in July. ”I had to go through a lot in order to get to this point. I put football on hold in order to support my kid. I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I realized it the day that I picked up a football when I was seven years old. Now I am in position to set out what I planned to do.”
“It would be Denzel Washington. Man he’s great. I grew up watching him. I love everything he’s ever made. He’s a great guy on and off the set.”
Ross also grew up watching and admiring the guy who’s regarded more than anyone else as the greatest player in NFL history, although he’s also found another Niners star receiver to emulate in recent years.
“Growing up it was always Jerry Rice. No doubt Jerry Rice was always that guy but in later stages like in the high school days and my college days it was more so Michael Crabtree. I love the way he plays.”
In addition to his normal film sessions, Ross has his own private film sessions where he studies several prolific NFL receivers, including the former 2009 first round pick (No. 10 overall) out of Texas Tech, who has chalked up 260 catches for 3,345 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and comes off the best year of his career, in which he set new personal records with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine TDs in 16 games (all starts).
“Michael Crabtree’s like the No. 1 guy I’ve studied. I like to study guys that kind of play my style of game and have a similar frame like Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills.”
Unlike many flamboyant wide outs at the next level, the 2012 Unanimous All-American, Great Lakes Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-GLVC and Ohio Sports Net Offensive Player of the Year likes to “lead by example” on and off the field and in the locker room.
“I’ll make it known from the first day of camp that if any person needs any help with the playbook or just needs somebody to talk to you can come to my dorm or come speak to me one-on-one because I’m not one of those guys that like to scream and holler or anything like that.”
Ross also has unique tastes when it comes to his favorite pre-game meal (oatmeal) and pre-game music.
“It started a while back. I was actually listening to some hip-hop and I noticed that I was so amped when I got to the field to where I didn’t perform like I wanted to and then I noticed that I wanted to ease my mind before a game instead of getting all pumped up. So one day I was listening to a little bit of the Temptations and it had eased my mind and I had a better game that week.”
Winning is ultimately the most important factor for Ross, but like any other college player, he wants to achieve individual success. Of the Central State Marauder’s 11 games this season, Ross is most looking forward to the ninth test on Nov. 2.
“Tuskegee is a great school. A lot of guys from the NFL went there and that’s the best team in our division. They actually won the championship for two years straight and they’re like the Alabama of DII teams and I feel like a big game there will really show that I belong in the spotlight.”
We’ll continue to highlight Ross and remain on the lookout for more very smart, hard-working and hungry small school stars like him as we kick our pre-draft coverage into swing this month.
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He’s also about to start reporting on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyze important issues in the liberty movement for a political website. Follow him @_MichaelGartman on Twitter. Be sure to ‘like’ Gridiron Grit on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GridironGrit to keep up with the latest coverage on college football, the NFL and more!