By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I would like to thank Kirk Ferentz for still using a fullback at a time when many head football coaches consider the position to be obsolete.
Because without a fullback, I wouldn’t have had the privilege to interview and get to know some of the most interesting players on the Iowa team, the latest example being junior Brady Ross.
So much sacrifice, humility and pain goes into being an Iowa fullback that it takes somebody special to fill the role, somebody like the 6-foot, 245-pound Ross.
The same Brady Ross who had over 500 rushing attempts as a high school senior, including 44 in one game, might not even touch the ball in Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.
The fact that Ross already has four rushing attempts, including one that gained a key first down, and two catches in the first three games is a story in itself because it’s rare for an Iowa fullback to even have that many touches.
Ross knew that when he agreed to switch from linebacker to fullback after coming to Iowa as a walk-on. But he accepted his role and is now a key piece to an offense that relies heavily on running between the tackles and running behind a hard-charging fullback.
“Always as a fullback my number one priority is to be a good blocker,” Ross said. “If you pride yourself on anything else as a fullback, you’re going to be in for a long career and you’re probably not going to be that good. So that’s in the forefront of my mind, how I can fit in to the run game by blocking and opening up opportunities for very good running backs.”
Saturday’s game against Wisconsin will feature a rare situation in which both teams use a fullback. Fellow junior Alec Ingold is to the Badger offense what Ross is to the Iowa offense.
“They’re big, physical and talented and all that stuff,” Ross said of Wisconsin. “But really, what makes them so good is that they’re tough football players.
“We’re shooting to be a championship-level football team, no less than that. So as far as we’re concerned, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to play a championship-level football team.”
Ross epitomizes what it means to be a tough football player. It would be impossible to play fullback for Iowa without being tough, strong and unselfish.
Anytime that Ross touches the ball now is considered news, where it was just the opposite when he played for Greg Thomas at Humboldt High School.
“I used to get the ball a little more on Friday nights,” Ross said. “It all kind of comes back, kind of like riding a bike. It’s not going to happen all the time just because we have so many options on offense, that quite honestly, are a little bit faster than me and a little bit better with the ball.
“So I’m being pragmatic about it. But when you’re number is called, you want to capitalize.”
Ross’ number was called repeatedly during high school.
“Coach Thomas liked to feed me,” said Ross, who had more than 500 rushing attempts as a high school senior. “A lot of sore Saturday mornings.”
Ross said he once had 44 rushing attempts in a game, and it wasn’t even a district game.
“I’ll never forget it, it’s the middle of the season, it’s a non-district game and coach Thomas comes in and he goes, ‘gentleman, we are going to run the football’ and walked out.
“I’m like, okay, let’s do it. Middle of the season, non-district game and 43 carries. I was a little sore that next morning, but it was all fun.”
Ross seems mature beyond his years and is very articulate and insightful. He speaks like somebody who should be narrating documentaries.
He is a joy to interview because you can tell that Ross cares about his answers and respects the job of a journalist.
I’ll never forget the courage and poise that Ross showed while speaking to the media about his father’s death from a suicide, which occurred in July 2016. Ross had to have been in agony, and yet, he still had the strength and courage to address his father’s situation when he didn’t have to.
The media would’ve understood if Ross didn’t want to speak publicly about his father’s death.
But it almost seemed that Ross was honoring his father’s legacy by sharing his thoughts to the media. It was a powerful moment that left me almost in tears.
Ross continues to honor his father’s memory by excelling as an Iowa football player, on and off the field. He has the respect and admiration of his teammates, who have voted Ross a captain in each of the first four games.
“We’ve got four outstanding guys representing the team,” said Kirk Ferentz.
Ross said it wasn’t easy switching from linebacker to fullback. He played linebacker in high school, along with being his team’s featured running back. So his teammates mostly blocked for him in high school.
“That’s tough because it’s a position that I never really played," Ross said of fullback "The fundamentals of football really translate to some degree to every position. So it’s the same, just keep your pads down and try to run through guys, which at first is tough to do because it goes against every natural inclination that you have as a human being.
“But I like to think that I have improved greatly from the first snaps I took in practice to now, and I hope to continue to improve.”
As for Saturday’s showdown against the Badgers, Ross said what happened last year in Madison is in the past and should have no effect on the outcome.
“It did leave kind of sour taste in our mouth and we certainly still have that,” Ross said of the 38-14 loss to Wisconsin in which the Iowa offense was held to just 66 yards. "It’s a new year and none of that is going to help us on Saturday night. That’s kind of like bulletin-board material.
"You can put it up all you want, but once the ball is kicked off, it’s not going to help you win. What’s going to help us win is details and fundamentals and just outworking them. And they’re a tough group to outwork. They work hard and are very detailed themselves.”
The way in which Ross describes the tough-minded Badgers also works in describing him.