August 13, 2012

'Hard work, dedication' brought Ross back

With some hesitation, O.J. Ross will admit that keeping his focus last season was a difficulty.

And that's understandable, particularly considering the changes in his personnel life that made balancing family, academics and athletics harder than ever before.

"Having a child, you have to grow up," Ross said of his daughter, who turned 1 on Saturday, "because you're not a child anymore, you have a responsibility."

It was a year ago that Ross saw his world change. He missed a week of training camp while back in Florida to watch over his first-born. When he returned, he felt pulled in different directions and had trouble focusing enough on any one of them.

"Maybe a little," he admitted to a lack of focus. "It was just the whole family situation."

But a year later, Ross' life has settled into a routine. His young family lives in West Lafayette and he's gotten his academics together. It was the latter that caused him strife toward the end of last season, when he was suspended for the bowl game and the first half of spring.

At the time, Coach Danny Hope explained Ross wasn't taking care of business in the classroom, although Purdue never declared him academically ineligible. Ross was happy to get back in good favor for the end of the spring, and he played well in the final scrimmage.

"It was definitely tough," Ross said of his suspension, "one of the toughest things I've had to experience in my lifetime. But it was a lesson learned and something that won't ever happen again.

"I just put in hard work and dedication and now I'm back."

Ross, who is expected to be eligible in 2012 (final grades are not yet posted), is hoping he can be better than ever. In 2011, the 5-foot-10, 192-pounder caught 33 passes for 356 yards and had three touchdowns.

"He's really working hard," Hope said. "The things that he's had to go through, the spring semester was really good for him. He had to … work really hard and fight his way back up the depth chart. He was never dismissed from the team, but he had to make a much greater commitment, in my mind, in regards to football and school.

"He's always done a lot of good things, but we wanted more from him, effort-wise and consistency-wise. And I think he's gotten a gasp of where we're coming from and is really working hard in school and on the football field."

Ross laughs when asked how much he's changed as a person since coming to Purdue three years ago. Then, he was a four-star prospect from Florida with big dreams about where his talents would take him, but probably less knowledge about the work it'd take.

"The person that I was a couple years ago was just a football player," he said. "Now, I'm a student-athlete, student first and then football.

"I'm a lot more mature. I don't even know what to say, I've come a long way."

And his daughter is a big reason why.

"It was life-changing, but a blessing," Ross said of her birth. "My little girl, that's my motivation, that's my why. It's why I do this now, so I'm just ready for the season."

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