On the eve of the NFL Draft, John Ross III told Complex, “I’m tired of being asked why didn’t I go with Adidas. I am so tired of that question.” To catch you up to speed, Adidas had promised a private island to any prospect who broke the 40-yard dash record. Ross did that with a time of 4.22, but he was ineligible for the lavish prize since he was wearing Nike cleats. Is it any surprise that brand returned the loyalty by selecting Ross for its Nike Football rookie class of 2017?
After he was drafted ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, he offered a better narrative to run with (pun intended): “I’m honestly a better person than I am a player.” That will be something to see, considering Ross played receiver and corner at Washington, rebounded from a torn ACL that caused him to miss an entire season, and set a school-record for kickoff returns for a TD.
Ross’s new career is beginning before his current one has even ended. On June 10 he’ll graduate with a degree in American ethnic studies, a major that satisfies his curiosity about different cultures. Ross says understanding the anthropological shifts as America becomes more diverse might help him when he gets into coaching down the road. Safe to say he stays on the move, mentally and physically. In our interview, he also shared the topic he thinks he’s the GOAT in, the R&B singer who’s like a big brother to him, and how his injury actually made him a better athlete.
From my research, I learned that you’re friends with Trey Songz. How did that come about?
How did you find that out? That’s crazy. Somebody who rolls around with him is from the area that I’m from, and he’s actually really good friends with my dad—they’re like brothers. ‘Cause Trey Songz is not that young. Not saying he’s old! He’d be mad if he heard me say that, but he’s a little older. My dad’s 39, I think Trey is like 32. So they all know each other. And Trey’s been my favorite artist since like sixth, seventh grade, so just for me to meet him was really special.
And you guys just kept in touch?
Yeah. So every time I’m back in California I go and hang out with him, go to the studio, hear some music. And he works hard too. I like being around him because he’s one of the guys who will keep you focused.
Has he given you advice?
Yeah, definitely. We FaceTime, and after I ran he told me, “Now everybody’s after you. Just stay focused, and stay humble; that’s the biggest part."
That was one of my questions: How did things change for you after you broke the record at the Combine?
They didn’t change so much. I think people have noticed me more for being fast. They didn’t think I was as fast as people were saying, but now they know.
What’s your relationship like with [projected No. 1 NBA draft pick] Markelle Fultz?
Actually, me and Markelle, we had like two different paths—he’s basketball, I’m football. So I barely see Markelle on campus, maybe because of the setup. We practice early in the morning, they practice later in the day. But every time me and Markelle see each other it’s nothing but love. We always talk, say what’s up, how you doing. He’s quiet too, and I like that. He’s a humble dude. He doesn’t come off like, “I’m the No. 1 draft pick.” He’s not a flashy guy; he’s very respectable.
So you had a school-record four kickoff returns for a touchdown, which is crazy. Do you expect to be utilized on special teams?
They asked me would I want to do that, and I said yeah. But they kind of told me it’s a little different. Guys are now kicking it out the endzone, so we talked about punt return, which I’m very open to, which I’ve always wanted to do. I kind of got away from it because we had another guy come in who was just really good, and they didn’t want me doing kick return, punt return, receiver, and I was playing corner, so I was doing so much.
You did the most.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I was a little extra, but I definitely want to do special teams in the league because it will not only help me, it’ll help the team, which is the most important part.
You crammed a lot into your collegiate career. Like you said, you played corner, receiver, and you had an injury.
Well, I love this game, so it wasn’t really that hard of a transition. The hardest part was finding out I was not playing for a whole season before it even started. It hurt me. But once you realize all the positives you get out of that, you’re almost thankful. Not almost—you are thankful. I got to see my family more, I got to focus more on school, I started to be on the Dean’s List. And really I got to learn football from a different perspective—a coach’s perspective—and really hone in on my position and the playbook, talk to my quarterback, see what he was thinking: Why’d you throw that and not this? So it was a little different. Now that I got to see all that I can honestly say it was a blessing in disguise, and that whole theory of things happen for a reason…it’s funny how we work as humans; we gotta see it to believe it, but that’s actually true.
What, if anything, are you going to miss about school?
I think school is school. I don’t think too many people miss school, [laughs] whether you were the best student ever or not, because school is a grind. It takes so much of your time. I’ll miss the brotherhood, the quality time you get to spend with your teammates. Guys tell me now how the older guys [on the team] have kids, they have families, more responsibilities. They don’t have time to come over, kick it, play the game, watch the game, so it’s a little different.
Speaking of playing the game, what’s your go to?
I’m a Call of Duty guy. Love it. Call of Duty 2K. I’m the best. That’s the only thing I’m cocky about in this world. I’m the GOAT.
And we are in the Procter & Gamble VIP Style Lounge. So how did you decide to partner with Old Spice?
Old Spice has great product. As I’m getting ready, I’m using the Hydro Wash and it keeps me smelling fresh, it has my skin hydrated even after a workout, so it’s easy. They have the hardest working collection, so for me to be a part of it is very nice.
They also have really weird commercials. Are you ready to be a part of that?
Yeah, I think weird commercials are attractive. People laugh at them and it makes you pay attention. You’ll never forget that ad. People will walk around like, “You see that weird Old Spice commercial?” Some ads don’t even get talked about, so Old Spice is doing a great job with that.
Do you have any hair or grooming superstitions?
I did, I’m not gon lie. I felt like if I played with my hair not braided, I didn’t play as well, or if I wore a certain brand of socks then I gotta wear that brand of socks in the game. If I practiced the whole week and did good, I’m like, if I wear black socks now I won’t do that good.
Is there a particular player you’re really looking forward to playing with or against?
I really wanna play against Patrick Peterson, Aqib Talib. These guys are great guys. Great position guys. Their competitiveness, their talent, I like the dog that they bring. And I think it’s always good to play against somebody who got that dog in them, just to challenge yourself—how hard are you working? How hard are you willing to go play against guys who are that good?
As a wide receiver, how did it feel to see Dez Bryant follow you on Instagram?
I did not see that! I’m glad you said that. I’m also a fan of Dez, his hard work and his dedication and how much work he’s put in, definitely a fan, so I appreciate you telling me that. Now I gotta go follow him back!
What are your favorite social media accounts?
Kevin Hart, because he’s always posting something foolish. I love comedy. Also The Shiggy Show on Instagram. He’s super funny. I mostly follow funny accounts. A lot of athletes we just post pictures and stuff and try to inspire from afar, so yeah, I like comedy pages.
And what's going on in your DMs?
It’s a lot of kids in my DMs asking me to follow them, asking for shoutouts, posting me in their Snapchat stories. I started to do that sometimes so now the kids just be blowing me up. And I respond to some of ‘em, sometimes. I love kids.
You said after your name was called that you were more excited for your family than yourself. Why is that?
I used to watch this on TV. Now that I’m here, I couldn’t feel any more special. My mom calls me crying, I’m like, “What happened?” She’s like, “I’m just so excited I can’t sleep.” So I just appreciate stuff like that.