Meet Derrick Ross, the AFL’s Record-Breaking Running Back

If you haven’t heard of Derrick Ross, feel free to check the record books. Because, as of last Saturday, he just added another milestone to his career check-book list.

This time, it was for becoming the first Arena Football League player to reach 2,500 yards rushing in the history of the league.

Photo credit: Michael Kelly

Photo credit: Michael Kelly

However, his story may not be one you might expect from a player with so much success. For all of his achievements as a running back, he didn’t start his career behind the line of scrimmage. Indeed, he didn’t even start out on that side of the ball. He was a defensive end until his senior year of high school when he finally made the switch to running back.

“When I went to college, they recruited me as a defensive end and a running back,” said Ross. “I ended up playing running back and broke all the records at Tarleton State, and I’ve basically been playing running back ever since.”

Out of college, Ross found himself bouncing around teams first in the NFL and then in the CFL. He spent the 2006 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but his only in-game repetitions were against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also worked out for Cincinnati and Cleveland, but nothing came to fruition.

That was because although Ross initially planned on an NFL career, teams didn’t recruit him for the position he loved the game for. “They wanted me to play special teams, and I wanted to show them I could play running back and play at that level, so I had to do what I had to do.”

He ended up playing a year in the NFL Europe League, two years in the Canadian Football League, and a year in the Indoor Football League. It was on his last team, the San Angelo Stampede Express, where he was named Rookie of the Year. And in 2011, he found himself in the Arena Football League.

He said that none of this had been in his original plans and that he had hoped to get back to the NFL after he experimented with the other leagues. “It didn’t work out like that, but I’m still having a great career,” he said.

For Ross, “a great career” translates into a record-breaking one. After a year with the Dallas Vigilantes and a three-year stint with the Philadelphia Soul, he traveled from Los Angeles to Los Vegas before finding his current home in Jacksonville.

Photo credit: Jacksonville Sharks

Photo credit: Jacksonville Sharks

It was already mentioned that he became the first player to pass 2,500 yards rushing in the AFL. However, that also means that Ross holds the all-time record for rushing yards in the league’s history. And yet, when he reached his latest milestone, Ross says he didn’t even realize the feat until someone on the Jacksonville Sharks staff came and told him.

When asked how it felt to be the one who holds those titles in the record books, Ross was quick to give credit to his offensive lineman over the years. Of course, he also described the feeling as “amazing.”

“When they say No. 1, they’re going to have my name up there, and that just feels awesome. I’m honored.”

Still, there’s almost always one moment that stands above the rest for the great athletes. For all the time he’s spent making defenses look foolish in the AFL, Ross knew his moment as soon as the question was asked.

It was a during a game that decided his team’s fate in the regular season as the Philadelphia Soul fought for a playoff spot. It was against San Jose when he caught a screen pass. He could only explain the defining moment of his career as having his mind “go blank as he just kept going forward.” Adrenaline took over.

Looking back on it, he still doesn’t even know how he did. It made highlight of the year.

But Ross isn’t done. Not even close. As the 2015 season progresses, Ross is looking ahead to the impending matchup against the Philadelphia Soul, his old team who beat his Sharks 63-52 earlier in the season.

When the two teams met in April, it was an emotional Derrick Ross that took the field against his former team. This time, he’s leaving the emotional storylines to the media. “I’m just going to treat it like another game,” he said.

And for a team that started 0-3, Ross thinks his team has all the talent it needs. “We have the individual players, we just need to come together as a team. I think with everything outside of football, the things we all do together, we’ll start to know one another. And once you know someone, you want to protect your brother on the field.”

For the 2015 season, it seems like the Sharks are getting closer and closer to that point, especially after hanging on against the Cleveland Gladiators for a 46-43 win last week, the game in which Ross set his 2,500-yard rushing record.

“Since my career, I’ve had a great following from the fans, from the people getting behind me. I just wanted to give thanks to them, all the people back home. They’ve given me the courage to keep on going. They really did help me.”

And as for the rematch against the Philadelphia Soul? “I think we’re going to get a “W. I really do.”

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