May 25, 2013
By JONAH ROSENBLUM
Derrick Ross stands on the precipice of becoming the Arena Football League’s all-time leading rusher –even if the star fullback is rather demure about his impending accomplishment.
“A lot of people have mentioned it,” Ross said. “I really haven’t even thought about it. I’m just trying to win a championship for Philly and everything. I’m not trying to worry about the individual goal, which is good. Anything you get is an honor, but I’m trying to get this championship.”
When the Philadelphia running back passes Bo Kelly’s mark of 1,571 career rushing yards, however, what will stand out will be the time it took as much as the yardage he gained.
Kelly spent 12 seasons in the League, slowly amassing yardage, never surpassing 250 rushing yards in a season. Ross has wasted little time, exceeding 600 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons in the League. He stands just 16 yards away from eclipsing 250 rushing yards for the third straight season.
Philadelphia Soul coach Clint Dolezel is familiar with both running backs and knows full well the meaning of Ross’ imminent achievement.
“I’m really good friends with Bo Kelly,” Dolezel said. “I played junior college ball with him. I played East Texas ball with him so I know Bo, and Bo played for many, many years to get those records and stats and for Derrick to come in and do what he’s done in basically two and a half years is a credit to him and how amazing of a running back he is.”
And how amazing is that?
“Derrick, of all the running backs I’ve ever seen over the years, is the best pure running back of all of them,” Dolezel said. “Now, he might not block as well as some of them, but he’s actually getting better at that as well. Derrick is as good as he wants to be. He can not only break the record this week, or if not this week, then next week, he can just put all of those records to bed the next couple of years if he wants to.”
Ross has spent his entire Arena Football League career with Dolezel, dating back to 2011 with the Dallas Vigilantes. Hearkening back to his playing days in the AFL, Dolezel urged Ross to gain weight so he could better compete in the Arena game.
“I thought we needed to put some more weight on him to play in the Arena Football League because it’s a pound and pound it game. With linebackers coming in, it’s like two rams butting heads every play,” Dolezel said. “He just makes our offense better. For one, he’s 285 pounds and he probably still runs a 4.6. That’s pretty scary once you get him past the line of scrimmage, I don’t know who wants to get in front of him. I know I wouldn’t want to.”
As Dolezel tells it, Ross made his impact known from the start, taking his first Arena carry some 40-odd yards. He finished his rookie season with 167 rushing attempts for 622 yards. Both represented League records. The following season, he followed Dolezel to Philadelphia, and once again the two continued to change the game. In 2012, Ross got the ball 146 times. He complied with another League record: 645 rushing yards. Given his prior success, Ross knew where he wanted to play in 2013: Philadelphia.
“It’s like a family, man. I was a free agent last year and that’s what I was thinking about. I’ve been to battle with these guys. These guys, I can count on. I know what they’re going to do,” Ross said. “It was a great fit. It was perfect. Those guys are great. You have Joe Goosby. You have Tiger Jones. We’ve got three years together. It just clicked, man.”
Through all of these achievements, there was little time for celebration, according to Christian Johnson, Ross’ longtime aide on the offensive line. Johnson, who along with Ross made the move from the Vigilantes to the Soul, said that Saturday, or whenever Ross breaks the record, will likely be no different.
“Speaking on his behalf, Derrick has accomplished a lot in his football career, so for him, I guess this is just another pat on the back. It’s not too much because he has already accomplished a lot,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I just think we laughed about it. We said congratulations after the game. Everybody showed him some love, but every time we broke a record, we had another big game coming up.”
That’s not to say there isn’t pride though, for perhaps the best offensive line in the League, as well as Ross.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like an award for myself, if you know what I’m saying, because as an offensive lineman, we’re the unsung heroes so when things like this happen, this is how we get our rewards, by our quarterbacks doing good, by our running backs running good, because they can’t do it without us.”
To put it simply, no fullback gets the ball like>Derrick Ross does. There is no system like Philadelphia’s.
“He makes your offense, my offense even better because of the fact that teams have to worry about him running the ball,” Dolezel said. “You can’t rush the quarterback as hard when you’re worried about him getting the ball eight to 12 times a game. You never know when he can take one to the house from 40-some yards.”
The Philadelphia fullback already has 70 carries this season. The next highest total for a running back belongs to fullback Chad Cook of the San Antonio Talons. He has 41. Ross also has 18 rushing touchdowns, which is nearly on pace to snap Dan Alexander’s League record of 41, set in 2007. No other Arena fullback has greater than 13.
“The more we can hand him the ball, the more I like to give him the ball,” Dolezel said. “It’s just kind of a submission-type thing. There’s nothing worse than someone running the ball down your throat and you can’t do anything about it, and he’s been pretty successful at it for the last two and a half years.”
But for Ross, it’s one record at a time. And for now, it’s the League’s all-time rushing yardage mark. He’ll have a chance this week to set the record before a national television audience on CBS Sports Network.
“Of course, that gets me extra pumped,” Ross said. “To play the game I love in front of all them people, it will be good. My family will get to see me and everything. Everything’s ready to go now. Of course, they’ll watch it.”
So, the only question remaining is can>Derrick Ross get 69 rushing yards on Saturday? Given the way Ross’ career has gone, that seems like kind of a silly question.
“It’s definitely possible,” Dolezel said.