Monte Coleman wasn’t even asked what life in Arkansas-Pine Bluff football will be like without Bill Ross when he uttered: “I’m going to miss him.”
There are two games left, of course, for the Golden Lions. Two games Ross has remaining in his college career.
“Two games aren’t enough,” said Coleman, the Lions’ head coach. “I’d like to have two more years with him. We’re definitely going to miss him. He’s definitely one of the leaders, to say the least, not just in tackles or interceptions or any of that type of stuff.”
But he is a statistical leader.
Ross has 105 tackles to lead the SWAC, reaching the 100 plateau for the second straight year. He’s two away from his total last season.
That’s a nice stat for just one of the key players in Coleman’s standout 4-3 defense, which also boasts the Football Championship Subdivision’s leading sack man in defensive end Brandon Thurmond and another 100-plus tackler in linebacker Jer-ryan Harris (129 in 2010).
“I think it means a lot and it’s saying a lot about the coaches who are here,” Harris said of the plateau. “I think it’s saying a whole lot because there aren’t too many schools that can consistently put out players that can average 100 tackles a season.”
At 6-feet-2, 240 pounds, Ross’ achievement hasn’t been effortless, but he makes it look easy. He’s the only player in the SWAC who’s surpassed 100 tackles so far this season, leading Alabama A&M’s Vernon Marshall by 11.
In fact, UAPB’s entire first string of linebackers is ranked in the top five. Harris is third with 86 and Lofton is fourth with 82.
Every member of the UAPB defense values his share of stops, according to Ross.
“I expected to have a few more tackles, but it’s hard when you’re competing with such a good defense,” he said. “Everybody’s hungry for tackles. Everybody’s getting around the ball.”
The Wetumpka, Ala., product hasn’t just made an impact by stopping ball-carriers. He has returned two of his three interceptions this season for touchdowns and is only one pick behind SWAC co-leaders Kejuan Riley of Alabama State and Qua Cox of Jackson State.
Still, reaching the century mark in tackles and helping UAPB reach the Dec. 8 SWAC championship game are what Ross is proud of the most. That can change.
“If I get another interception, it will definitely be the interceptions,” Ross said. “I need at least one more; hopefully it will come the championship game.”
Harris caught a glimpse of the player he would line up with on film, watching Ross’ highlights from his days at New Mexico Military Institute. He envisioned what kind of impact the linebacking unit would have with Ross’ presence, but could only watch from the sidelines for part of the 2011 season while nursing a hamstring injury.
He’s been impressed with what he’s seen from Ross.
“It’s even more than I expected,” Harris said.
Ross quickly impacted the Lions’ defense from the start of last season and hasn’t slowed down.
“His game speed is faster than his 40 (yard dash) time,” Coleman said. “That’s what you want. You want people who can play fast. He plays more on instincts as opposed to thinking, so he can go faster.”
To Coleman, Ross’ play speaks louder than words.
“He’s not real vocal, but he leads by example,” Coleman said. “He practices hard and he plays hard. The young men on defense appreciate that aspect of him.”