WEST LAFAYETTE -- O.J. Ross is back from the “mist.” The Purdue junior receiver insists he has found focus, commitment and dedication. He is a student first, an athlete second and a father all the time.
“I found the love for the sport again,” he says. “Back in the fall I lost my love. It was all sorts of stuff piling up on me in the mist -- having a daughter, academics, football. It was all too much for me all at once.”
Life sometimes throws you curves. Ross didn't plan on being a father at age 19 on top of all the demands from football and school. He was a teenager with an adult's responsibilities, and by last December, it became too much.
Not anymore, he says.
“Things have settled down,” he says. “My family issues are straight. The academic issues are good. Football is going very good.”
Settling came with a cost. He was suspended from last season's bowl game and the first half of spring practice. Coach Danny Hope would only say Ross wasn't meeting his classroom responsibilities, although it never got so bad that he became academically ineligible.
“I'm definitely settled,” he says. “I'm ready to get things rolling.”
Still, rolling comes with obligations. His daughter, A'lyric, recently celebrated her first birthday. She lives with him in West Lafayette, which mean his off time isn't off anymore.
“I wouldn't say it's tough,” he says. “You've got to know how to handle things. It's definitely a blessing to have a daughter. That's my world right there. That's why I do what I do. She's keeping me motivated. That's my responsibility and I have to take care of her.”
It's not his only responsibilities. The suspension sent a message that Hope won't let him slack off in school or football, no matter how talented Ross is.
“The spring semester was good for him,” Hope says. “He had to fight his way back up the depth chart. He had to make a bigger commitment to football and school. We wanted more from him, and he's gotten the grasp of where we're coming from.”
Adds Ross: “I had to mature. I had to find myself. I'm ready to move forward. I know my role. I'm going to play it well and help my team win the best way I can.”
That mostly means catching passes. As a freshman, Ross had 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. As a sophomore, it was 33 for 356 and three TDs.
Now the goal is to break into the Big Ten's receiver upper echelon. At 5-10 and 188 pounds, he won't do it with size and strength as much as speed.
“He's very fast,” Hope says. “He has outstanding speed -- very fast and sudden.
“He can be a difference maker. He can catch a ball well in a crowd. He brings a lot to the table. We have a chance to be very fast on the perimeter, particularly at the receiver position, when O.J. is there.”
With a receiving corps of Ross, Antavian Edison (ran a 10.7-second 100-meter dash in high school in Florida), Gary Bush (a Florida state placewinner in the long jump) and Raheem Mostert (Florida state qualifier in the 300 hurdles), speed is a strength the Boilers figure to exploit.
“Expect a lot of speed, a lot of big plays, a lot of wins,” Ross says.
That leads to the question, who is Purdue's fastest receiver?
“Of course I'm going to say me,” Ross says. “Gary is real quick and fast. Antavian is quick and fast. Raheem Mostert is fast. I think we're at the top of the charts (in the Big Ten). I really think the Big Ten should look out for us.”
If that sounds bold, Ross quickly raises the ante when discussing the prospects of a Purdue team that returns 19 starters from a 7-6 team.
“We can go to a Rose Bowl,” he says. “We can go to any big bowl we want to.”