Eagles feature

Why it's so darn easy to root for John Ross with the Eagles

Former first-round pick John Ross is fighting to rejuvenate his career and he's an easy player to root for.

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The day John Ross retired in the summer of 2023, he knew instantly he made a mistake.

Ross never wanted to leave football.

“Literally the day I retired,” Ross said, “I knew it was a mistake.”

But the speedy wide receiver found himself in a bad place mentally after years of injuries and a failure to live up to extremely high expectations for a No. 9 overall pick in the draft. His career hadn’t gone to plan and he was at his end, so he walked away.

That’s when his son Kyrie saved him.

“When you get to a point where you feel like you’re at your lowest, you get to see everything for what it is,” Ross said after the Eagles’ OTA practice on Thursday. “And then you get to kind of look around and see your surroundings. I can tell you that my environment wasn’t great. So you gotta kind of hone [in] and pay attention to what matters to you and what’s real. 

“I got to see my son every single day and I think that changed my life. It just let me know that I don’t have anything to worry about. I’m blessed and I have everything in front of me. I’m young, I feel young, I haven’t played that much football. I just got to a point where I was sitting there thinking, every single day, ‘How do I change my mentality? How do I change my mindset?’ I got this little boy inspiring me every day through him playing football, him learning, me teaching him. I used to feel bad because I would get on him so much and I would be like, ‘I should be getting on myself’ because I can see me in him. I can honestly say he pulled me out of a bad place. Again, I’m very thankful.”

Ross, 28, came to Philadelphia on a tryout last month at rookie camp and must have impressed the Eagles because he was signed to the 90-man roster last week after DeVante Parker retired.

If we’re being realistic, chances aren’t great that Ross will be a significant contributor for the Eagles in 2024. Heck, he’s probably still just a long shot to even make the initial 53-man roster coming out of training camp.

But after one 8-minute press conference in May, Ross earned plenty of new fans. It’s almost impossible to not root for him as he begins his new chapter with the Eagles.

Because on Thursday afternoon, Ross spoke so openly and earnestly about his struggles, his love for football and — what pulled at heartstrings most — his relationship with his son Kyrie.

Kyrie, by the way, turned 7 last week. And even though it’s tough for Ross to be away from him, he feels like he’s in the right spot. In fact, Ross said that before boarding a flight to Philadelphia for his tryout last month, he asked his son what teams he should tryout for. The Eagles were the second team Kyrie mentioned and Ross said his face lit up when he heard that.

(If you’re wondering, Kyrie’s first answer was the Ravens. He’s a big Lamar Jackson fan. But he’s 7, so you’ll forgive him.)

After hearing Kyrie talk about the Eagles, Ross got on his flight to Philadelphia for that tryout on a mission. It motivated him.

Some former top 10 picks would find the tryout process humbling or even embarrassing. After all, Ross was sharing a field at rookie camp with a bunch of draft picks and undrafted players, many of whom will never have real NFL careers. But Ross didn’t view it like that. He couldn’t afford to.

“You look at it like this,” Ross said. “In my situation, I was a top 10 draft pick and we all talk about it all the time. ‘If we ever get to the point where we have to try out, then we’ll be done.’ But then you get to that point and you don’t have no other choice. 

“When I go the opportunity, I was probably the happiest person on Earth. Me and my son, just sitting there, I was just thankful and grateful. When I got here, I was happy to be here. It wasn’t a rookie minicamp, I was looking at it this way. It was an opportunity for me to play football again. It could have been an Eagles Canadian tryout, I would have been there happy, willing and able.”

The reason the Eagles signed Ross is the same reason the Bengals drafted him with the No. 9 overall pick out of Washington in the 2017 draft. He’s fast. Like, really fast.

Ross held the Combine’s 40-yard dash record — a blazing 4.22 — up until this past February when Texas receiver Xavier Worthy ran a 4.21.

Years after Ross’s record-breaking Combine, does he still have his wheels?

“I think I’m faster,” Ross said. “And I know that’s going to be crazy to say. I’m not feeling the same way I felt before physically. That’s why I say I think I’m faster. And when I say that, don’t get me wrong. I ran a 4.22. I’m not saying I’m a 4.15 or anything. 

“But what I’m saying is I just feel better so I think I can consistently be faster and I think that was my biggest thing. Can this guy go every single day and look the same every single day? And I feel like I’m getting to the point where I can be consistent with my speed. And to me that’s the biggest thing.”

Ross on Thursday congratulated Worthy on his record-breaking performance. Records are made to be broken and Ross feels lucky to have held the record for as long as he did.

Besides, Ross can’t be worried about one of his old records. He’s working too hard to make the Eagles roster and rejuvenate a career that never really got going. Ross’s best season in the NFL came in 2019 when he had just 28 catches for 506 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Sure, maybe Ross is a long shot, but he’s a good story and an easy guy to root for over the next few months.

Even though Ross misses his son Kyrie, he gets to talk to him on the phone quite a bit. Ross talked to his son before meetings on Thursday and he already knows what he’ll tell him about Thursday’s practice.

“Oh, dad was running today,” he said. “I feel like today was a good day.”

Yeah, it was a good day. Ross has been having a lot more of them recently.

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