Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) was limited to stretching in practice at Paul Brown Stadium, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Ross hated missing time but proud to be first in family to graduate

Between leading Washington to the College Football Playoff, breaking the 40-yard dash record at the Combine and being drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals, John Ross is having a heck of a year.

But the biggest highlight of all came Saturday when 40,000 people watched him walk, not run, across the Husky Stadium field to receive his diploma.

“It was probably bigger than getting drafted in my opinion, just because I feel like it’s something that can’t be taken away from you,” Ross said. “It was something for my family. I was the first generation to graduate in my family, so it was pretty big for me and everybody.

“I just know how important it was, just to see my parents faces after I graduated, to see how happy my father was, how happy my mom was,” Ross added.

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His parents, who drove 16 hours to witness the ceremony, took Ross out to dinner afterward. But Ross said he couldn’t wait to get on a plane to fly back to Cincinnati to be with his teammates after being barred from the facility the last four weeks due to an NFL rule that prohibits players from schools on a quarters system from working out with the team until his class graduates.

“As soon as I got my diploma, I was ready to fly as soon as they handed it to me,” Ross said. “I was excited to get started.”

Ross was allowed to participate in rookie camp but didn’t because he is still recovering from labrum surgery in March. So it wasn’t as big of a deal that he hasn’t been able to be around the team since May 8, but it still would have been helpful.

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“There’s a lot of new stuff,” he said. “It’s something I haven’t seen before, and I’m pretty sure it’s a little different than what we got to see during rookie camp. It’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to learn, but it’s a long process.”

Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) was limited to stretching in practice at Paul Brown Stadium, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Ross was able to communicate with coaches and teammates and watch practice film while finishing his classes in Seattle. And one of the players he talked to frequently – every day, in fact – was rookie running back Joe Mixon, the team’s second-round pick whose locker is next to Ross’.

“Being in the locker room and just being in the hotel together (during rookie camp), you build that chemistry,” Mixon said. “I was just checking in and telling him congratulations on graduating. Nobody really talks about that. I’m proud of him for his graduation. I think that’s huge. That’s better than football.”

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Even though Ross is back with the team, it will be a while before he’s back on the field doing anything meaningful. He expects to be fully healed from the labrum surgery early in training camp, if not by the start of it July 27.

“I’m looking very forward to it, because I haven’t played since January,” he said. “I love this game. I already love my teammates. We’re having a good time. I get along with everyone, which was anticipated, so I’m just happy to showcase and do everything I can for this team.”

“I just can’t wait to see him on the field,” Mixon added. “When we’re on the field, everything is going to take care of itself.”

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Wide receivers coach James Urban said he’s excited to have Ross back and is impressed by the work he put in while he was away.

“He’s worked diligently with the information,” Urban said. “He and I have communicated throughout the process while he was balancing his schoolwork and exams and papers.

“We’re certainly proud of John for graduating,” Urban added. “The rule is the rule, and he wouldn’t be here anyway because of the rule. But it’s an easier pill for me to swallow if he actually graduated, and he did that. He’s got a lot of catching up to do, but he’s done the groundwork to put him in the right direction.”

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