Oct. 18, 2000
By Jacob Barker Sports Information Graduate Asst.The Maryland Game Program – October 14, 2000
It takes a person with special character to be able to handle the adversity senior linebacker Kenzi Ross has faced both on and off the football field over his career at Clemson. After fighting through injuries and also the death of his mother, Ross has provided the Tigers with much needed leadership during their most recent resurgence into the national spotlight of college football.
The 6-2, 220-pound Ross grew up in Fort Valley, GA and went on to star in both track and football at Peach County High School. He and fellow Clemson senior defender Terry Jolly were teammates at Peach County. Ross was named a football All-American by the Southeastern Recruiting Alliance and was selected to play in the Georgia-Florida all-star game. Peach County is also the same high school that produced Pittsburgh Steeler All-Pro linebacker Greg Lloyd.
Coming out of high school, Ross was heavily recruited by several schools but in the end it was Clemson’s storied linebacker tradition that led him to become a Tiger.
“When I was deciding on schools it came down to Clemson and Georgia Tech,” recalled Ross. “I was pulled toward Clemson because I knew their linebackers were hard nosed and always played extremely hard. I wanted to be just like those guys and knew that coming to Clemson would allow me to become that type of player.”
As a first-year freshman at Clemson in 1997, Ross gained valuable experience as a reserve linebacker behind the likes of current NFL starts Rahim Abdullah and Anthony Simmons. Ross lettered that season and had his best game against Auburn in the Peach Bowl when he registered three tackles. Even with the success he experienced as a freshman, that season proved to be very difficult for Ross. He suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his knee and although it did not require surgery, the injury lingered with him throughout the next couple of seasons.
During his sophomore season, Ross played in eight games but was forced to miss to the Virginia Tech, and North Carolina games because of his knee injury.
“Being hurt early in my career has hurt my playing time,” said Ross. “Even with the injuries, though, I have just tried to contribute in any way I can to this team.”
In 1999, injuries once again forced Ross to miss two games but he finished the season with a strong performance against Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl. He excelled on special teams throughout the season and had his best game at Georgia Tech when he registered two special teams tackles and two tackles from the line of scrimmage.
1999 was another extremely difficult year for Ross, however, as his mother passed away in early September. Ever since his mother’s death, Ross has looked towards his grandmother, his two younger brothers and his younger sister for support.
“Because I never had a father figure in my life, everything I learned growing up came from her and my grandmother,” Ross said of his mother. “I miss her tremendously but everyday I try to live life like she taught me to do because I know that is what she would have wanted.”
As the only senior linebacker on this year’s Clemson roster, Ross realizes the importance of his leadership to the younger players on the team.
“I have really tried to step up and talk with the younger guys about what they need to do to improve their games,” Ross said. “I know what the coaches are looking for from the younger guys and I am doing everything I can to make sure that they become the best players they can be.”
As a reward for his leadership, Ross was named special teams’ captain for Clemson’s game at Virginia last month.
“The thing about Kenzi is that is had been through some very difficult times since he has been here and the guys on the team respect him for the way he has battled through those times,” said fellow special teams’ standout and reserve strong safety Chad Speck.
“Every time Kenzi steps on the field whether it be on defense or on special teams, you know he is going to come at you as hard as he can. Everyone on the team looks to him to get us going with a big hit and he rarely disappoints us.”
In this his senior season, Ross has played in four of Clemson’s first five games and registered at least one tackle in the first three ACC games. He continues to work hard in practice not only to improve himself as a player but also to ensure that the team continues to improve. His unselfishness and dedication to the team is evident when he is questioned about his favorite moment so far as a Clemson Tiger.
“I don’t really have a favorite moment for me personally, but instead I would have to say that the success we have experienced as a team this season has been the highlight for me,” Ross acknowledged.
The adversity Kenzi Ross has faced over his career has made him a stronger person both on and off the football field. Because of his perseverance in life and in football, it is safe to say that Ross will be successful with whatever challenges he will face after his career as a Tiger is over. He is a player that understands and accepts his role on the Clemson team and because of this he is an important reason that the Tigers are once again among the elite teams in college football.
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