When John Ross stepped into one of the newly-constructed classrooms in the northeast corner of the Jordan High School campus, it was as if he’d never left. Wearing a black long-sleeve t-shirt with Jordan High School written on the front, he was as nondescript as one could expect from a 24-year-old professional athlete. As he introduced himself to the students of Jordan’s Male Leadership Academy, it was clear that the campus itself has changed more than Ross has in the seven years since his departure.
Ross was an All-American wide receiver and kick returner during his time in J-Town, winning back-to-back Moore League Offensive Player of the Year awards. He then went on to the University of Washington, where he earned All-American honors in 2016 and was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Yet with all that success, he’s always been eager to return home and give back to his school and his community. In Ross’ eyes, he’s carrying on a legacy that was instilled in him during his time at Jordan.
During Ross’ high school years, former Jordan standouts John Timu and Ortege Jenkins came back to the school to share words of wisdom with the next generation. Timu and Jenkins were star players at Pac-12 programs Washington and Arizona, respectively, and both had stints in the NFL. Their willingness to give back their time inspired Ross to do the same.
“I vividly remember just watching and paying attention thinking ‘Wow, this could be me.’ I want to be in that position,” Ross recalled. “I always told myself ‘If I make it, you always give back.’ You have to. It should be part of everyone’s regimen, because kids look up to us.
“I think it really gives them a sense of hope. Because when I was in their shoes, that’s what it did for me. It gave me a sense of hope. That could be me.”
With his soft-spoken and laid back demeanor, Ross covered a wide range of topics with the dozen or so students in the class, opening up about every aspect of his career: how he dealt with a torn ACL in college, the ways in which he invests his seven-figure signing bonus, or how he broke the NFL Combine record for the fastest 40-yard dash time ever (and why there isn’t a John Ross Island somewhere).
“This is exactly how he was as a student,” said Jay Camerino, a former Jordan principal who is currently the LBUSD Assistant Superintendent of High Schools. “He was always so approachable, you would never know he was a superstar athlete.”
Ross also spoke to the Jordan High football program, reliving some of his best games in high school, and offering some words of wisdom on how to cultivate a cohesive, successful team. He emphasized taking personal responsibility on improving as a player by putting in extra workouts, while also holding teammates accountable both on the field and in the classroom.
After spending over three hours talking to students and answering a slew of questions, Ross stuck around to take photos and sign autographs on footballs, gloves, cleats, and even pieces of notebook paper. Then he was off to a workout, walking the walk as he prepares for his fourth NFL season. But according to Ross, he hopes to be viewed based off what he does for others, rather than what he may accomplish on the field.
“I think the lives that I touch outside of football is what makes me who I am,” Ross said. “I want to be remembered as a guy who gave everything he had to his city and to people around him. I want to touch lives. I don’t want to be remembered because of how fast I was or how great of a football player I was, but because of the person I was.”