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Thread: Great John Ross Piece

  1. #1

    Great John Ross Piece

    What happened to Bengal John Ross? Inside his year of pain and self-discovery

    Jim Owczarski, Cincinnati EnquirerPublished 11:25 p.m. ET Aug. 1, 2018 | Updated 7:06 a.m. ET Aug. 2, 2018

    Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross' rookie year broke him, physically and emotionally. Once he realized it, he was able to pick up the pieces. Sam Greene, sgreene@enquirer.com




    (Photo: Sam Greene)



    Rain peppered the slate outside Hotel AC in downtown Cincinnati. Dressed in a black T-shirt, shorts, socks and flip flops, occupying a single chair in a shaded conference room, John Ross bled out.


    “I’ve never talked about this.”


    John found out last year there’s only so much a person can stack inside. At some point, their mind and their heart don’t just ache, but break.


    He was broken in 2017. We watched him crumble.


    “I got hit with so much last year, physically, emotionally. I was literally losing it,” he said.


    “I felt, at times, I was like … who am I? I used to wake up and I felt like everything was wrong.”


    When it was over, he stood and stretched. The rain had cleared, he closed the wound and walked out of the first floor sliding glass doors with a smile.
    The sun was shining.




    John Ross holds up his No. 15 jersey with head coach
    Marvin Lewis in a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on April 28, 2017. (Photo: Sam Greene, The Enquirer)






    By the time John Ross drifted into the orbit of the National Football League, he was already on empty.


    He had spent January through July training while injured, becoming a father, having surgery, rehabbing, finishing classes at the University of
    Washington, graduating and flying around the country interviewing for jobs. Once his job found him – the Cincinnati Bengals used the No. 9 overall
    pick of the 2017 draft on him – life really began.


    “I was so … tired. I remember being exhausted.”


    If the fans and media felt like the start of his career an excruciating practice in patience, John’s recollection of his August through September adds the
    speed to which he lived it.


    He flies through those months in seconds: Starting training camp late due to rehab, being thrown into the third preseason game in Washington, tweaking a knee in the preseason finale and missing the first week of the season and then fumbling on his first touch as a pro against Houston in Week 2.


    “It just started to go downhill from there,” John recalled. “I would run, like, across the field and be gassed. Oh my God. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t hold
    myself together.”




    John almost quit this.


    It’s a well-known story, oft retold. At 16 he wanted to leave football because he had seen people start to gravitate to him, like mosquitos to the bulb.
    He stayed with it, going on to high school and college stardom and became a top 10 NFL pick. It’s the stuff dreams – and easy narratives – are made
    of.






    Buried deep under all that was the truth of that thought. Think of the weight of it. Here was this child wondering about the motivations of those around
    him. What did they want? What did they stand to gain by his choice to play football?


    Fast forward. He’s a multi-millionaire.


    Google it. John knows everybody has.


    There’s freedom in finance. For him, however, it came with more weight, more uncertainty.


    John’s whole life is public. He was born into the internet. The top college football recruiting site began tracking the exploits of teenagers the year he
    was born. Facebook was invented when he was nine. Twitter, 12.


    In a span of eight years, he went from being coached by Snoop Dogg in a youth league in Long Beach to hosting high school team sleepovers to
    having Sports Illustrated profiles and network aired to becoming one of the most recognizable names in the NFL after a record-setting 40-yard dash
    at the combine.

    “My little brother (Gregory) told me ‘It’s hard for me talk to you now because you’ve gotten so big,’” John said. “I got mad at him. I was like, I’ve never

    told you that. He’s like, it’s not you, it’s how everyone else treats you.”


    There’s pain in his face as he recounts that conversation.


    But John was the newest, speediest commodity for an NFL team. A top 10 pick. Entertainment and football’s biggest names are a FaceTime
    connection away. He may not have been on the field, but the clutching and grabbing every time he tried to get off the line was there.


    How do you even begin to navigate that?


    How do you talk about it?


    Who do you talk about it to?

    “I definitely felt lonely,” John said. “My friends will tell you and my family will tell you, I have a problem with, when I get into a tank, I shut people out completely. In my mind you can’t help me. You really don’t understand what I’m going through because you’re not in my shoes. So, I don’t talk about it and I just try to correct things myself.”

    The clouds were blowing in over him, yet there was a beam of light John followed through the year.

    Julian.


    “The day he was born was definitely the happiest I’ve ever been in life,” John said of May 15, 2017, with the widest of his wide smiles.


    “I was scared beforehand – but once I saw him I was like, ‘I’m his father.’ It kind of was the best thing I’ve ever experienced. It was good and bad I
    wasn’t here playing football because of school, because I got to spend time with him.”


    Unfortunately – and fortunately – that last sentence proved to be a very important thread John held as tight as he could last year.


    “The fear of me not letting my son know who I was, was really big,” John said. “I got to go home after surgery for a little bit. Then we got a break. So I
    actually spent a lot of time with my son. He was so happy. He started to realize ‘that’s my dad.’ When you asked was there a parallel (to his knee
    injury in 2015), I think that was the parallel of me being slowed down. That was the reason.”


    John looks forward to the random moments now when Julian will grab his mother’s phone and hit the FaceTime button. Seeing dad’s face is enough,
    and Julian will leave the screen broadcasting the ceiling.


    Over the phone or in person, his son offered clarity in a season encroached upon by shadow.




    John Ross didn't have many opportunities to play in
    2017. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)






    The rain continued to pepper the ground outside the windows. The lights in the conference room eventually turn off because of the lack of motion.
    John was supposed to be sitting on the hotel rooftop, under the sun, for this.


    As the lights get flipped on again, John takes the moment for a breath.


    As the 2017 regular season wore on for the Bengals, it slowly ground him down. The smile disappeared. He punched in, punched out. Once home,
    he went to his room and locked himself inside. His brother and friends would knock.


    You OK?


    The door would open a little. I’m good.


    But he wasn’t.


    “It never stopped,” John said. “I’m like OK, I’m already physically beat up. Let me go in and do what I have to do. Then I did that and I went lower. It
    got worse. Then towards the end of the season, physically, I started lifting, I still had some restrictions but I felt better. My routes got better. I started
    performing better. They’re like ‘he’s going hard.’ I’m like ‘OK, I’m fine.’


    “But emotionally I was dealing with not playing, I’m letting people down, I’m putting so much weight on myself. I just felt so low.”


    Brandon LaFell saw this. Every day.


    “Don’t let them take your joy,” Brandon told him heading into meetings.


    How does he know?


    You didn’t need to look hard. In the locker room, John’s smile was gone. His shoulders were rounded, head down, in his locker.


    “When they steal your joy, it’s over,” Brandon said. “I said ‘You’re going to go from doing something you love to man, I gotta do this.’ And I said that’s
    the wrong thing. That’s the wrong thing, to feel like you’re forcing yourself. I said you can’t let them steal your joy. You got to find something that make
    you happy.


    “Once you go in the tank around here, in the NFL, ain’t nobody going to get you out that tank but yourself.”


    This was advice his grandmother once gave to him heading out to school in Long Beach: Don’t let anyone take away your happiness. But now, John
    was too deep in it. It had all gone to hell and everyone asked why. Family. Teammates. Media. Fans.


    Every. Day.


    October turned to November to December. The questions don’t stop: Does the head coach have his back? Is he just not getting it? Is he hurt? John
    didn’t hide from it. He talked about what he thought was happening.


    He was searching for the why in all of it.


    “I felt like my life isn’t supposed to be the way it is,” John said of 2017. “Being hurt is really tough because it was so much. Not being able to play.
    Then, you don’t try to listen to outside, but it’s in your face. It’s hard to close it out because you get to the games and some of your teammates are
    like, why are you not playing? You always have to explain it. Your little cousins don’t know what’s going on and they’re like, why you not playing?
    You’re letting so many people down without trying.


    “And sometimes when it’s out of your hands, you have no answers. And whenever you feel like you have no answers, sometimes you’ll feel less of a
    person.


    “And I felt like, well, do I suck?”




    The fact John is talking about this is monumental.


    With an arm in a sling at the end of 2017 – just as it began – he slowly came to understand something had to change. Communication is a weak spot
    for him, especially when things sour, and he would lock himself up. By the end of the last season, he could see how such a decision affected
    everything and he set himself a new course.


    “You have to let people know the situation,” John said. “My problem is I don’t like talking about anything negative. So, I don’t like confrontation, I don’t
    like drama, I don’t like yelling, I don’t like arguments. The only thing I’ll argue over is LeBron being the best. Honestly, that’s the only thing I’ll argue
    about. But that’s always fun and games. In terms of serious things, it’s always better ways to handle things.


    “I just have to communicate and let people know this isn’t right. I need you guys to help me. You guys ask for me help, this is all I need from you, is to
    relax, everything is going to be OK. If things go how they’re supposed to go and I do what I’m supposed to do, we will all be OK. I promise.”




    It was an OK day.


    John was full speed. Open. Andy Dalton kept feeding him the ball in this June mini-camp session, but some wound up on the turf. William Jackson III
    gave it to him after one drop, turning away from John and bellowing “Catch the goddamn ball!”


    In the locker room after, John was quiet. Lessons could be learned from the drops, but there were positives, too. Sharp routes left teammates
    stuttering through air while he caught a touchdown. Julian was ill, which was clearly on his mind, and he was trying to get an earlier flight to California.


    In other words, it was a day of real life – his life.


    But, in many ways, it’s a better life.


    “I had to stop being down on myself and be around positive energy,” John said. “I let the injury get the best of me and it tore me down as a person.

    I’m a really happy person. I’m always happy. People love being around me, I love being around people. That’s just who I am. That’s just how I was
    built. So now I look at things differently. Like during OTAs, I’ll have a bad practice, I’m going to go home and I’m going to tell myself that wasn’t good
    enough, I’m going to look at the film and I’m going to go out and work on something that I shouldn’t let happen the day before. That’s how I look at it.
    Instead of going home, woe is me, well, you didn’t do good enough.


    “It’s so much. But I just take my time now, one day at a time, continue to smile and be happy and be thankful that I’m here.”


    Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) and
    wide receiver John Ross have had excellent training camps thus far. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)




    This self-discovery doesn’t mean John is going to have a Pro Bowl season 2018. Or stay healthy. Or even that he won’t sink back into himself if his
    season slips a bit.


    But it gives John a plan for pulling himself out much quicker.


    “Everyone realizes what I went through last year can’t happen again,” he admits.


    So here we are. He’s healthy. Stronger. Confident. He hauled in a 50-yard touchdown from Andy Dalton in front of nearly 1,000 fans on the opening
    day of training camp, eliciting the gasps and an exuberant leap from Joe Mixon into his arms.


    The kilowatt smile is back. The laugh is back.


    John is back.


    “There are so many things that I’ve learned over time and I’m still learning that I’m so excited about. I feel like I’m growing up. It’s scary.”


    He finishes the second syllable on a smile and laughs.


    “But it’s also fun.”


    After nearly two hours, John is ready to go. He looks and sounds happy. The wound of 2017 isn’t fully healed, but this bloodletting sounded and felt
    cathartic. Instead of waiting inside for his car to be swung around by the valet, John stepped into the sunlight. The rain has moved on.



    https://www.cincinnati.com/story/spo...ear/867859002/


  2. #2
    Wow, that is a superb piece. Thanks for pulling it out and highlighting it 1181.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by membengal View Post
    Wow, that is a superb piece. Thanks for pulling it out and highlighting it 1181.
    Yes... very good. Not normally a fan of Jim Owczarski... he just says “right!” and “yep!” a lot... but that was really well-written and insightful.

    I’m rooting for Ross - I really hope he has a nice bounce-back season and a great football career. He’s very talented.

  4. #4
    The lack of confidence surprises me. Ross is obviously having a tough time making the leap to the NFL, but many of the same things are said about Josh Malone, another guy who developed into a WR1 at a major college program. So what makes someone like Ju Ju so good almost immediately? Not saying I thought either Bengal would be good right away, but a lack of confidence was the least of my concerns. In fact, I would have described Ross as cocky or borderline arrogant coming out of Washington. But arriving in Cincy he seemed broken from the start. Talk of busting started almost immediately.

  5. #5
    I am guessing his playing or trying to play hurt didn't help. He sure looks and sounds different this camp...

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by HOF View Post
    The lack of confidence surprises me. Ross is obviously having a tough time making the leap to the NFL, but many of the same things are said about Josh Malone, another guy who developed into a WR1 at a major college program. So what makes someone like Ju Ju so good almost immediately? Not saying I thought either Bengal would be good right away, but a lack of confidence was the least of my concerns. In fact, I would have described Ross as cocky or borderline arrogant coming out of Washington. But arriving in Cincy he seemed broken from the start. Talk of busting started almost immediately.

    Marvin Lewis?

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by HOF View Post
    The lack of confidence surprises me. Ross is obviously having a tough time making the leap to the NFL, but many of the same things are said about Josh Malone, another guy who developed into a WR1 at a major college program. So what makes someone like Ju Ju so good almost immediately? Not saying I thought either Bengal would be good right away, but a lack of confidence was the least of my concerns. In fact, I would have described Ross as cocky or borderline arrogant coming out of Washington. But arriving in Cincy he seemed broken from the start. Talk of busting started almost immediately.
    JuJu "so good" lol. I don't know maybe not playing injured and playing with Brown, Bell, Bryant and Ben? Lots of talent to help open him up. JuJu is overrated.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by dautcom8 View Post
    JuJu "so good" lol. I don't know maybe not playing injured and playing with Brown, Bell, Bryant and Ben? Lots of talent to help open him up. JuJu is overrated.
    Well, hello Homer. If Smith Schuster was overrated I'd hate to hear how you described John Ross or Joe Mixon. After all, this thread is based upon a lengthy article detailing how the NFL was too big of a mental leap for Ross. He admitted he couldn't handle the emotional challenges. Hid in his room and cried himself to sleep at night wondering if he sucked. Sniff. He didn't make a play all season long....apparently because he didn't have Big Ben throwing him the passes he wouldn't have caught, right?

    Sarcasm aside, I agree with JoeyV....Marvin Lewis did Ross no favors . He seemed to belittle his own draft pick every time he spoke about him, especially when he claimed Ross didn't deserve the status he was given by the press after the draft. To his credit Mike Tomlin doesn't pull that crap with his rookies. Lewis seems to go out of his way to belittle most rookies in the press and starves them of playing time on the field.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by HOF View Post
    Well, hello Homer. If Smith Schuster was overrated I'd hate to hear how you described John Ross or Joe Mixon. After all, this thread is based upon a lengthy article detailing how the NFL was too big of a mental leap for Ross. He admitted he couldn't handle the emotional challenges. Hid in his room and cried himself to sleep at night wondering if he sucked. Sniff. He didn't make a play all season long....apparently because he didn't have Big Ben throwing him the passes he wouldn't have caught, right?

    Sarcasm aside, I agree with JoeyV....Marvin Lewis did Ross no favors . He seemed to belittle his own draft pick every time he spoke about him, especially when he claimed Ross didn't deserve the status he was given by the press after the draft. To his credit Mike Tomlin doesn't pull that crap with his rookies. Lewis seems to go out of his way to belittle most rookies in the press and starves them of playing time on the field.
    Didn't know still thinking that even after his rookie campaign JuJu is 10000% over hyped made me a homer but thanks for the lesson there. Don't think he sustains it, but he's super kewl with his fortniting and love affection for Vontaze Burfict.

    Sarcasm aside, I believe Ross will have a better career than JuJu regardless of what they did in Year 1.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by dautcom8 View Post
    Sarcasm aside, I believe Ross will have a better career than JuJu regardless of what they did in Year 1.

    Don't you mean stats and facts aside?

    Your opinion is 100% based upon ignoring the rookie seasons of both players. Why would I do that? Ross couldn't have been worse and now admits he wasn't mentally prepared for the NFL. Smith Schuster's rookie season was statistically historically good, including the longest punt return in francise history, and by blasting Burfict he proved the NFL wasn't too big for him. He killed the beast. Small wonder he's already a folk hero in Pittsburgh.

    Meanwhile, John Ross. Clean slate. Nowhere to go but up.

    One thing for certain, his first NFL reception is sure going to be memorable.

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