WESTLAKE — Before he took over the Westlake High School football program, head coach John Richardson had heard of Rams running back J.J. Ross.
But it wasn't until spring practice that he realized what Ross was like: a rare combination of power and speed in a 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame.
"I knew he had some athletic ability," Richardson said. "But coming into the spring, when I actually saw him run and everything, in person, it was the combination he has of power and speed.
"A lot of times you get the one or the other, but you don't have both. He is real compact. He is real solid. He makes good cuts and is a very powerful runner. He is tough to bring down."
Richardson said he's also been impressed with how Ross has taken on more of a leadership role as the Rams look to end a streak of six losing seasons.
"A lot times when you get a player like that, he has always been a good athlete, but you don't necessarily have the leadership qualities," Richardson said. "But he really wants to win and that is the kind of guys you need to help a program turn around.
"You always hope your best players (are) the leaders too, not just the most talented and I think that is what we have with him."
Ross went from 379 yards in 2017 as the Rams' No. 3 back to 1,514 yards and 14 touchdowns last year on 198 carries. He had a 314-yard, four-touchdown outburst against Washington-Marion in Week 6 and 260 yards and three scores in Week 8 against Lake Arthur.
Ross hit the weights hard in the summer and returned more lean, Richardson said.
"He is one of the strongest kids on the football team," Richardson said. "His weight is about the same, but I think he is a little bit more defined and leaned out then what he was a year ago.
"He has the ability to pound the ball inside and get the tough yards, but he has enough speed where he can pop it outside and make the big plays as well."
Ross committed a few fumbles last year but said he's been working to bring that number to zero.
"I have been working on making my arms stronger," Ross said. "I haven't fumbled yet in practice.
"I have been working on getting my stamina up, running longer and make the defense tired. It is a very quick (offense), it doesn't give defenses time to react."
Coupled with backfield mate Jasia Simien (5-9, 170), Richardson said he expects the duo to pile up yards in the split-back veer offense.
"We are definitely going to be a between-the-tackles running team, but we will get outside and (Ross and Simien) have enough speed, when they get to the second level, to make big plays," Richardson said. "(Simien) is just a little bit quicker and shiftier runner.
"He makes really good cuts and their styles complement each other. When things are going right, then both backs will have around 20 carries. You hope every one stays healthy, and if they do, they will both have big seasons."