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Speed sells: UW’s John Ross going for combine sprint record, is inspired Deontae Cooper

UW's John Ross is the buzz at NFL Combine, says 'I was gifted with speed'

The spotlight's on University of Washington wide receiver John Ross at the NFL Combine. Ross says he'll be going after the Combine's record for the 40-year dash.
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The spotlight's on University of Washington wide receiver John Ross at the NFL Combine. Ross says he'll be going after the Combine's record for the 40-year dash.

Everyone wants to talk about his speed.

In fact, 11 NFL teams had talked to John Ross here at the NFL combine by Friday afternoon -- before he had even taken the field for drills. And, yes, he says he’s going for Chris Johnson’s combine record for fastest 40-yard dash, 4.24 seconds from 2008, when Ross gets timed on the field Saturday.

“I’m going to try. I’m going to try,” the zooming University of Washington wide receiver said with a smile Friday. “I don’t want to say too much, like I’m everything. But I’m definitely going to go for it.

“I’ve been blessed with speed...That’s where I stand out the most.”

Ross also stood out of day three of the NFL combine for his graciousness and loyalty to a former Huskies teammate.

In May 2015, four months after surgery to repair two meniscus tears in his right knee, Ross learned he was missing his junior season at UW. He needed a second knee surgery, this one to rebuild his anterior cruciate ligament.

He could have sulked. He could have spiraled out of the Huskies’ plans. So far from where he is right now, one of the most talked-about prospects at this combine, one that could go in the first 15 picks of April’s draft.

Instead, Ross admired Deontae Cooper.

The relentless Cooper, Ross’ teammate with the Huskies, had not one, not two, but three reconstructions in his UW career because of three torn ACLs in three years. The running back eventually got his Washington degree, then entered school’s Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership graduate program (inside story: he was a student of mine in that program). After a series of medical-hardship applications, the NCAA eventually granted Cooper an unheard-of seventh season eligibility. He played that last fall at San Jose State.

“That’s something that’s hard to overcome,” Ross said Friday. “Especially me going through it once, I would never wish that on anyone. And just to see him overcome three? There’s nothing more amazing than that.

“And I’ve never seen a frown on his face. He’s always so positive. Everyday he came in with high energy, happy to be where he is.

“It’s good to be around somebody like that.”

These days, it’s good to be around Ross.

If you can catch him.

His game-breaking, defense-wrecking speed, even after the knee surgeries, is why many feel he may be the first wide receiver drafted in April. NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said this week Ross may fit perfectly with the speed-needy Philadelphia Eagles at No. 15 overall.

“John Ross just absolutely flies,” Mayock said. “As a vertical threat, he’s probably the best one in this draft.”

He led the Pac-12 with 17 touchdown receptions last season and caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards. He was a national semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award given annually to the top wide receiver in college football. He then declared for the draft, forgoing his senior season.

Speed can’t wait.

Ross ran a hand-timed 4.25 seconds in the 40 last March at UW’s pro-like combine coach Chris Petersen puts on for his Huskies each spring. He said his goal, short of breaking Johnson’s record in the 40, is to run in the 4.3 range on Saturday. If he does, that would seem to ensure he will become the fourth Husky drafted in the first round in three years. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton (to Cleveland), cornerback Marcus Peters (to Kansas City) and linebacker Shaq Thompson (to Carolina) went in round one in 2015, while Ross was between his knee surgeries.

People here are asking Ross how much those operations set him back.

Ross doesn’t think like that.

“I think it gave me an advantage,” he said.

Advantage?” one questioner from the East Coast said.

“Yes,” Ross continued, “I feel better. I feel stronger. I think it helped me throughout my career.”

Ross officially measured just over 5 feet 10 inches tall and 188 pounds here on Thursday. So, no, size is not the reason he’s a star here this week. NFL teams not only value Ross as a deep-threat wide receiver but also as a kick returner, which he also was at UW.

Ross was asked Friday what separates him from Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, the other two wide receivers here expected to go in the first round in April.

His answer wasn’t exactly a shocker.

“The speed. Definitely, the speed,” Ross said. “Mike, he can also be a deep threat, but he’s a big guy. Corey Davis is a complete guy. I just think that I am faster than those guys. That’s what shows up more on film.”

“That’s where I stand out the most.”

And that is why, when asked here Friday about his fellow Los Angeles native and Pac-12 wide receiver, Washington State’s Gabe Marks laughed.

“He’s a good guy,” Marks said of Ross.

“He’s going to make a lot of money.”