STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It’s time to give Fred Ross his due.
Frankly, it’s way past time. Time to stop confusing him with Fred Brown. Time to stop overlooking him because of De'Runnya Wilson. Time to stop calling him Mr. Dependable and start referring to him as one of the best receivers in the SEC.
Though it’s easy to fall in love with the talent of Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk, don’t forget about Mississippi State’s veteran receiver. Ross is the one who led the league in receptions per game, ranked second among Power 5 players in yards after catch and set school records for catches (88) and 100-yard receiving games (five) last season. What’s more, he had one of the best catches of the season with this one-handed, 55-yard touchdown grab in a thriller of a game against Arkansas.
To top it all off, he did it all while dealing with a groin injury that required surgery this spring. The worst pain, he said, came during the month of November in which he finished with 41 catches, 500 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
The pain killers worked to a certain extent, he said. The rest was pure effort from the 6-foot-2, 207-pound native of Tyler, Texas.
For two and a half hours this spring, Ross went under the knife. He said he wasn’t nervous right up until he arrived at the hospital, and then a mini-panic set in. But everything went fine and the next four weeks were spent in crutches watching spring practice go on without him, anxiety replaced by sheer boredom.
"It sucks," he said. "There’s a lot of time I’ve thought, 'I wish I was out there.'"
Rather than sulk, Ross hobbled around the football complex wearing the same easy smile coaches have come to expect from him. In addition to rehabbing every possible moment, he spent his down time in the film room. He said he watched a lot of tape, some dating to two years ago.
"Just seeing myself on the field gives me motivation to get back on it," he said.
He said he had to stay patient to have the breakthrough season he had last year. Having Dak Prescott at quarterback helped, too, he was sure to add.
This year will be different, though. Brown and Wilson are gone. So is Prescott. Suddenly the most well-known name on Mississippi State’s offense is Ross, and he doesn’t know which of the four quarterbacks on the roster will be throwing him the football.
Whether that means changes on offense doesn’t seem to matter to the rising senior, though. He said he’s more focused on being a leader and finishing his career with a bang.
"This is my last year," he said. "I just want to have no regrets and leave everything out on the field every game and reach my potential."
That potential could include setting school records for career catches and receiving yards. Even with a new quarterback, the 36 catches and 360 yards he needs are attainable.
Frankly, Ross' numbers should have spoken for him last season. Yet somehow the Associated Press and ESPN.com kept him off their All-SEC First Teams.
If he starts passing names like former three-time NFL All-Pro Eric Moulds, there will be no denying him any longer.