Alex Ross did not play organized professional football during the 2016 season.
That made for a long year for the most prolific quarterback in Coastal Carolina and Big South Conference history.
Being unable to stick with an NFL team in his first year out of college and being shunned by a Canadian Football League team increased his resolve, and led him to the beautiful west coast province of British Columbia.
That’s where Ross is today as the third-string quarterback for the B.C. Lions of the CFL.
“I love the game,” Ross said. “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else doing anything else. I love the game of football that much. I’m just excited to play again after not playing in 2016. It’s great to be in this football environment again.”
Ross is one of two former Grand Strand residents holding QB spots in the CFL, as former Myrtle Beach High and Notre Dame QB Everett Golson was projected to be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats third-stringer behind Zach Collaros and Jeremiah Masoli but suffered a lower-body injury in a preseason game and has started the season on the injured list.
Ross, 24, who is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, is behind B.C. starter Jonathon Jennings, 24, out of Saginaw Valley and backup Travis Lulay, 33, who played at Montana State.
“The guys ahead of me, they put in their time, put in their work and they’re great quarterbacks and they’ve taught me a lot,” Ross said. “I’m eating it all up, soaking it up like a sponge and trying to learn the game, because the game’s different than the game in the states. It’s just a different game completely. ”
The field is longer and wider than an NFL field, there are 12 players per side compared to 11, and receivers and running backs with the exception of the one or two receivers who are out wide are allowed to move toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. The outside receivers can move along the line of scrimmage, and several players can be in motion at once.
“It’s different but it’s a great opportunity for me,” Ross said. “I can’t tell you how much I grew just in training camp as far as learning the game. I’m definitely not there yet, there’s still a lot I can learn, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
I’m just taking it day by day and trying to get a little bit better every day and we’ll see where that goes.
A native of Alpharetta, Ga., who led Buford (Ga.) High to three consecutive state titles, Ross went undrafted but was invited to the hometown Atlanta Falcons’ rookie mini-camp as a free agent in May 2016 and remained with the team until he was cut last August.
“I was excited to have an opportunity with them,” Ross said. “Unfortunately it didn’t end of working and I missed out on a whole season.”
He was encouraged by his experience in Atlanta, particularly by his interaction with then Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
“I felt when I was down there I did an excellent job, and the coaches were pretty fired up about me as far as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. They seemed interested,” Ross said. “[Shanahan] sent me a text message telling me how I did and that I deserved a shot at the league and to keep going after it and keep working hard and everything would pan out.”
Ross didn’t consider the CFL as a possible landing spot immediately after leaving CCU. “As I got deeper into the process I realized where I sat,” Ross said. “I wasn’t getting much exposure being from a smaller school and not as big of a quarterback. I put up a lot of numbers at Coastal and I felt it would be good to consider the CFL route so that if anything happened I wouldn’t be out of football.”
He tried out with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in March 2016 but “they told me I wasn’t good enough,” Ross said.
He attended a B.C. Lions camp in Dallas prior to the 2016 NFL draft.
He was in Dallas to train and have a sit-down with Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach that was arranged by CCU coach Joe Moglia and decided to stop into the camp.
“I thought, ‘Since I’m here I might as well do it.’ I did it to get some exposure,” Ross said. “They ended up liking me and I think the head scout knew somebody on our [CCU] coaching staff.”
A Lions’ top U.S. scout told Ross the team was interested. “He reached out to me and said, ‘Let me know when you’re done pursuing the NFL thing,’ so I did that and we got something squared away,” Ross said.
Ross agreed to a contract in October and his signing with the team was announced in January. He traveled to Vancouver for Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) in April followed by training camp, and earned the third-string position over Keith Price, the University of Washington starter from 2011-13 and two-year member of Saskatchewan who signed with the Lions last year.
Ross played in both B.C. preseason games, completing 11 of 22 passes for 168 yards with a touchdown and interception, and rushing once for 12 yards.
“I did alright. There are some things I could have done better, things I can learn from and some things I did well,” Ross said.
The Lions fell 30-27 to Edmonton in their season-opener Saturday, when Jennings was the only QB who played, and travel to Toronto for their second game Friday.
I’m enjoying it out here. It’s beautiful. It’s different than anything I’ve seen.
Ross is the Big South’s all-time leader in total offense (11,482 yards) and rushing TDs by a QB (19), and holds Chanticleer career all-time passing marks in completions (760), attempts (1,174), yards (9,918), yards per game (211.0), touchdowns (72) and completion percentage (.647).
He spent some time this spring in the Myrtle Beach area, throwing passes to some recent CCU grads before and during their Pro Day on March 31, including fifth-round Denver draft pick De’Angelo Henderson.
He longs to join Henderson in the NFL someday.
“I can’t look that far ahead right now,” Ross said. “I’m just taking it day by day and trying to get a little bit better every day and we’ll see where that goes.”