BATESVILLE, Miss. – When you play for South Panola High School, you are used to the big game. The Tigers have won a number of state championships, including the last two. And for senior ESPNU 150 defensive linemen Issac Gross, there will be one more taste of the big game.
This time it will be the Under Armour All-America Game, set for Jan. 5 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Gross was presented his game jersey today during the American Family Insurance Selection Tour.
"This is obviously a great honor for me," Gross said. "First, I thank God. Then, I would like to thank my coaches and teammates. To play in this game and get to show your skills against the best in the country is a great opportunity for me. I watched it growing up and now I get to play in that game. It was always a goal. Big games are something we love here and this will be a big one for me."
It's also an honor to his parents, especially his mom, Patricia Gross. She has watched her son grow up, and along the way he never lost sight of what was important to him, school and football.
"It's amazing what Issac has accomplished," Patricia said. "All I can say is that he has always been so focused in general. For Issac, it's not just all about football, but he wants to get his education. It's so important to him. And for me, I love that."
Mom also loves the idea that her son will be just down the road for the next four or five years, as Gross has made his commitment to the University of Mississippi.
"I think that's going to be so good," she said. "He's close to us and we are close to him. It will be so much easier on our family."
Gross (6-foot-2, 245 pounds), is ranked No. 37 overall, the No. 4 defensive tackle prospect in the nation and the No. 2 player from the state of Mississippi. South Panola defensive line coach Eddie Maxon said that Gross' particular skill set will get him on the field early.
"Issac is such a dynamic player," Maxon said. "He has great quickness and power off the ball. I think he's a great fit at a school like Ole Miss and I firmly believe that he can step in right away and play. He can help them next season."
With Ole Miss, it's a family thing in Batesville. The Gross family tree also includes present and former members of the Rebels, including the Strongs, Sanfords and Barksdales. They all played for South Panola, and most signed with Ole Miss.
"I take it kind of personally because you have to carry things on, and I want to do that," Gross said. "I try and be a good role model for the little kids around here, so maybe they can have that chance. They look up to us like I looked up to the older guys when I was little. We are all family in some way, and it just makes everything real positive."
A few members of the Gross family have signed with Mississippi State, but Issac's father, Chester Gross, said it's all good.
"Whether it's Ole Miss or Mississippi State, I look at it as a state of Mississippi thing," Chester said. "We are proud of them all."
There was more to Issac's decision to commit to Ole Miss than carrying on the family tradition. He believes in the program and the university.
"Honestly, it's a great team," Issac said. "I love the coaches and the players there. It's a super program that just needs a spark. My plan is to give them just that."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.