Buckeyes Wire exclusive: Catching up with former Ohio State running back Lydell Ross

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We’re at the tail-end of the bye-week for Ohio State football, getting ready for the second-half stretch run of a season that started out slow but with the Buckeyes now looking to hit their stride on the way to what will hopefully end in some pretty special things.

Being that there’s not a whole lot going on over at the Woody this week that we’re covering, we thought we’d take the opportunity to catch up with a former Buckeye and see how things are going.

On that note, we reached out to former Ohio State running back Lydell Ross to see what he’s up to these days. For those of you too young to remember, or for those of us that do but need a refresher, Ross was a part of Jim Tressel’s first recruiting class at Ohio State as a member of the 2001 class. He was a highly sought-after back out of Tampa, Florida, and helped rescue (along with running back Jaja Riley) the first recruiting efforts of the sweatered-vested one.

And yeah, he famously had to take a bit of a backseat when freshman sensation Maurice Clarett burst on the scene in 2002, but some of the memories Ross supplied Buckeye fans with during that magical ride that year, one that brought home a national title, won’t soon be forgotten.

Ross is now a firefighter back home in Tampa, and in case you think he’s let his body go to waste after his football career was over — fughetaboudit. Obviously, firefighters are known to be in great shape, and it’s easy to see that he still is by a Facebook post the city of Tampa shared.

We picked out some of the highlights of our conversation and are sharing them with you, so let’s dive in.

On how Ross got into becoming a firefighter

“It did come about as I got out of football. It was after I got home and graduated, and came back home to Tampa. A lot of my friends that I grew up with in high school, middle school, were firemen. And I played sports with these guys growing up on the same football team. We had a lot in common. And, you know, I reached out to a few of them to see what it was like, and I immediately fell in love with it with just beginning to the end, what the job entails. The main thing with firefighting is it was close to being a part of a team without actually being on a football team that I could get to. We all have the same goal in mind, every shift, and that was helping people and getting home safely at the end of the shift. And in the physical as well. I knew that I could do well in that aspect. So it was very fun and motivating. And every day was different. That would enable me to challenge myself every day. And that’s what happens. Every shift, every time I go and do challenge myself to be better. So it was a no brainer.”

On the physical shape he still is in today

“I try to hold all my weight in a good way. It’s something that never left me, man, that physical ability to be able to get out there, a little bit of lifting weights in middle school. And, you know, it helps me do my job as well. It’s very physically demanding. It just helped me be a better firefighter. So it wasn’t very hard for me — I’ve been lifting weights my whole life. So it wasn’t very hard to maintain that on the job because I’ve been doing it for so long.”

On whether he's ever thought about coaching or getting back into the game of football in some capacity

“You know, when I first moved back, a few guys reached out to me from Gaither High School to see if I had any interest in coaching, but I got right into the fire department really quickly. I got right into Academy, I mean less than maybe a year before — less than a year after I moved back. So I considered it. But I wanted to focus on being on a job and in the fire service and learning a lot of things in the fire department. But since then I hadn’t really considered getting back on the field or coaching or anything like that.”

On why he chose to come to Ohio State from Florida despite a coaching change from John Cooper to Jim Tressel

“I was very interested in Ohio State. It was one of my top the top five schools that I visited, but you know, I remember after they fired Cooper, I was going to completely forget about them, and I was probably going to go to Florida. I know Jim Tressel came in at the last second. I mean it seemed like they recruited me harder than they did when john Cooper was there. It almost felt like we’re not going to lose this guy. In this transition of coaches, it was like, ‘We don’t want to lose him, and we’re going to get him back at Ohio State even with his different coaching staff coming in and everything.’ And man, they pulled out all the stops and that’s what kept me engaged. They truly wanted to have me there, and it showed in Jim Tressel’s recruiting for sure. My mindset was ‘OK, Cooper’s gone, they probably have some disarray, they don’t have a coach yet. Ok. Go on to the next school.’ But man, Tressel came in and they didn’t miss a beat. They called me and we took off from where we left off with Cooper. I felt good and everybody else in my family did. And all of a sudden I’m getting into Ohio State … I had actually verbaled to Notre Dame after Cooper got fired, but then took it back and committed to Ohio State.”

On whether Ross has a good Jim Tressel Story

“Tressel thinks of himself as a comedian, and he is. He is what he thinks. He would give you a small jab just to see if you were awake and if you were listening. Others would jab back, but he’d always get you more than you’d get him. I remember my freshman year, I came to Ohio State and was really young. I was just 16 and didn’t turn 17 until December. Anyway, every week we’d go out to a movie as a team before the game — I think it was after we’d get to the hotel and then we’d go back out as a team. So, we’re sitting in the meeting room and it was an R-rated movie we were going to and he was like, ‘Mr. Ross, now do you have a parent or guardian that can accompany you to the theatre?’ It was in front of everybody and they all got a good laugh out of that one. But that’s just the way he was, he was a funny guy. He was always doing stuff and jabbing at guys.”

On making his recruiting visit in February from Florida to Ohio and if the weather was shocking

“Yeah, it was cold, it was chilly, but I didn’t think anything of it to be honest. In fact it was kind of interesting and cool coming from Florida. I was ready to leave for school soon anyway and it was really just kind of neat for someone that had never really seen snow.”

On being a sounding board for OSU commit Kye Stokes who's also from Tampa

“Yeah, I spoke with him on the phone a couple of times already — he’s excited. I talked to him after he gave his verbal, just a sounding board on what he’s going through and what to expect. I mean I was scared as a freshman going out there, so it was nice to give him an idea of what to expect. I mean, I never got homesick like some of the other guys, but I was leaving home. I had never even been on a plane up until the recruiting process, so it was scary.”

On whether he got a sense of the "Buckeye brotherhood" under Jim Tressel

“Yeah, absolutely, without a doubt. Coach Tressel preached that day in and day out — family. It was about people, and how important that is to the team. I mean, he really it was really about growth. The game and everything else will take care of itself, but it’s really about ourselves in doing what’s right, on and off the field.”

On what Ross remembers the most about being at Ohio State and his growth as a person

“There’s a lot, but I’d have to say that quitting is not an option. That was something that stuck with me and was a part of everything we did. If you ran into a speed bump and you couldn’t figure it out the next day, or the day after, but you’d figure it out eventually — adapt and overcome. Tressel really instilled that in us.”

On the 9-yard first down run in double OT to help extend the drive against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl being his favorite as a Buckeye

“Oh yeah, it’s got to be (his favorite).” I actually got hurt on that play — I had a stinger and had to come out but it was a memorable one for sure.”

On if the 2002 season was as nervous for the players as it was the fans

“No, never. We were competing 60 minutes. Whether we were winning or losing when it’s close, not close. We were playing the win. There was no time to be nervous when you try to go out and win a ballgame.”

On if the team could sense the magnitude of the moment and what it was doing in 2002

“Yeah, it was shocking the world. It just proves the mentality that Tressel taught us. He preached about not quitting. We never had a definition of not taking no as an answer, or for an answer, or quitting. Quitting was not acceptable and it was proven right there in that season. A lot of times it was close and we could have given up. Look at Maurice’s play when he stripped the ball away from Sean Taylor’s hands after the interception. That was a big momentum changer that he didn’t quit on. We just moved on and made the next play.”

On whether the team had a sense of how good Miami was leading up to the Fiesta Bowl

“Yeah, absolutely. It had to be the most talented team we played in my four years. I mean at running back, the entire team, it was loaded. It was definitely the most physical. There wasn’t any team we played that was more physical than that team.

On whether the team knew it could play with Miami

“Yeah, every game is 0-0 when you start. We never thought about, maybe this, maybe that’s gonna happen, and we just were like, we’re gonna win the game. No one was questioning. The game plan didn’t change. There were no special plays put in or anything. We just played our game, you know? It was like another week. With Jim Tressel, there was no different preparation for what I remember. There was no rah-rah halftime speech, pregame speech. He did the same thing he did before every other game during the year. So we treated that game like it was a normal, regular-season game. Sure. They (Miami) weren’t special to us. They were special to other people, but they didn’t see the way we were going to play. We had way more endurance than they did, that’s one thing that stood out. Toward the end of the game and in overtime, they were keeled over we were humming. We were still gnawing at the bit. We had that advantage over them for sure. Our guys were in a lot better shape.”

On one thing that maybe Ohio State fans don't know about Lydell Ross or that 2002 season

“Me and Maurice Clarett got along. Me and him got along really well. A lot of people questioned that because I was set up to be the starter my sophomore year, but we had a really good off-the-field relationship, on the field too. There was no bitterness or anything like that with that situation between me, between everybody. I just wanted to see everybody succeed, I want to see the team win. That was my thing.”

We want to thank Ross for taking the time to speak with us. He was as gracious and forthcoming as anyone we’ve talked to and we are not surprised at all that he chose a profession that is centered around being a part of a team that helps make the community a better one.

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