Football is a legacy passed down from generation to generation. Fathers teach their sons who then share the game with their sons. For the Ross Family, football has been more than just a game, it is life.
It began with the patriarch of the family Butch Ross. A Beaver County football legend, Butch, who passed away in 2008, began his coaching career in the early 60’s and was the head coach at Hopewell by the end of the decade. During his tenure, one of his most memorable accomplishments was converting an undersized defensive back to running back in the summer of 1971. Five years later, that player would go on to win the Heisman trophy. That player was Tony Dorsett.
Like his father, Mark Ross entered the family business of football after playing and graduating from Geneva College. Though he would play under his father at Geneva, Mark did not get a chance play for his Hall of Fame father in high school because he went to neighboring Quigley. Butch may have missed out coaching Mark in high school, but the son isn’t missing out on coaching the grandson, Cody.
After playing at Our Lady Sacred Heart is freshmen season, Cody Ross, who is entering his junior season, transferred to Freedom Area. A short time later, Mark would join new head coach Tom Liberty’s staff as an assistant. Though some players may feel pressure playing for their dad, Cody uses it as motivation.
“I just look at it as it’s a normal thing,” Ross said. “It helps me know I have to always work hard and do extra things to want playing time but at same time he knows what he expects and I know what he expects out of me.”
When you come from an esteem football family like Cody’s, everyone from your coaches to fans expect strong performances out of you. In just his sophomore year, Ross was able to do just that and then some, helping Freedom to the first playoff win in more than a decade. As a two-way starter, he was able to rack up 95 tackles, 16 for loss and 2 forced fumbles at middle linebacker while churning out 49 rushes for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns as a fullback.
— Cody Ross® (@43legacy) August 20, 2017
Following the season, interest poured in for Ross from FBS, FCS and even Division II schools. And not just on the defensive side of the ball. While some in football may think the fullback is dead, Ross is being recruited by multiple schools at the position, even at the FBS level. Right now, he is listed on most recruiting boards as an athlete (can play multiple positions). Though he would like to play linebacker at the next level, Ross says he will have to weigh his options first before making a final decision on a position.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Ross said. “If I had the choice I would really want to play linebacker, but it is so early in the process. I like both positions a lot and I’m getting recruited highly at both of them. I would really have to sit and see what I want to do.”
In the offseason, Ross was invited to participate in multiple prospect camps at both Pitt and Penn State. When he was in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions coaching staff become very interested in the Freedom star, especially head coach James Franklin, who invited Ross to attend any home game he wants in the fall. But despite all the love from Penn State, Ross feels he would fit best right now in the MAC, specifically Toledo.
“I would really wanna play in the MAC,” Ross said. “I think I can really play there. I really like Toledo, its one of my favorite MAC schools. They show a lot of interest in me.”
For the Ross family, football is a passion. It started with Butch, who taught it to Mark, who then shared it with Cody. Though his grandfather has been gone almost a decade, Cody continues to honor his legacy every time he steps on the field.
“Every practice, every game, every snap I play for him,” Ross said. “I play for the last name to keep his spirit alive. His name is on my wrist every game.And I keep a ritual that I started when I was young, he’s buried not to far from the Hopewell stadium, you can actually hear the games from there but I always go there before games, to show my love for what I was blessed with, I know he’s with me all the time watching me reach the goals I set for myself. “
Cody and the rest of the Freedom Bulldog will open their season this week on the road Friday night in non-conference action. Their opponent? Those same Hopewell Vikings (then Hopewell Cowboys) that Cody’s grandfather coached. The times may have changed, but one thing is for certain, the Ross name will be echoing at least one more time from Hopewell Stadium.