EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- Ahmad Ross wasn’t very big when he entered St. Joseph as a freshman last year.
“I wasn’t big enough to play linebacker,” he said.
He is now.
That 5-foot-7, 120-pound freshman has turned into a 6-1, 180-pound sophomore and there was no shortage of big plays coming in the season’s biggest game.
Ross opened and ended the scoring and did plenty in between as St. Joseph defeated rival Holy Spirit, 41-22 in Friday’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state championship at Met Life Stadium.
Ross returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown for the game’s first score. It was his third straight postseason game with an interception in helping the 10-2 Wildcats win their 20th state title since the establishment of the Non-Public statewide tournament in 1993.
“I dropped in my zone, read the quarterback’s eyes and did what I had to do,” he said.
On offense he burst through for an 88-yard touchdown run that increased the Wildcats lead to 20-6 with just 1 minute and 16 seconds left in the second quarter.
He ended his scoring with a 25-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
“That one was like the cherry on top of the cake,” he said.
Ross finished the day with 135 yards rushing on eight carries and the two scores.
On a team with one of the top running backs in South Jersey and also statewide, junior Jada Byers, it’s easy to get lost in the publicity shuffle.
Byers was again his spectacular self with a 31-yard touchdown run and two long TD receptions. Yet one of his greatest moments he said was congratulating Ross on his score.
“I had tears going down my eyes, I was so happy for him,” Byers said.
It turns out that the two Bridgeton residents have a special bond.
“We only live about 30 seconds away from each other,” Ross said.
The way both run, maybe it can be done in 25 seconds.
“He is like my little brother,” Byers said.
That drew laughs from the 5-7, 165-pound Byers. Still he is a grade older and somebody Ross looks up to. Byers sees nothing but a bright future for his friend.
“That little kid will be one of the best in 2021,” Byers said.
With performances like the one he had in the state final, it’s easy to see that coming to fruition.
“Ahmad came up big for us tonight,” St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said. “You have to remember he was a freshman running back-fullback and didn’t get much varsity time and now all of a sudden he stepped into his spot.”
And he has done more than blend in.
“He has been one of our big leaders as a sophomore and has really done a great job,” Sacco said. “He has a good future ahead of him if we get linemen.”
St. Joseph has to replace its offensive line, but Ross and Byers will be back.
Entering the championship game, Ross had 491 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 95 carries.
He has had to make the most of his touches.
“I just want to help the team out any way I can,” he said.
Ross admits that Byers was a big factor in having him attend St. Joseph and the two push each other in their workouts together.
The little guy who entered high school kept working at his craft and it shows.
“I spent extra time in the weight room,” Ross said. “I did a lot of pushups, whatever it took to improve,”
All the hard work paid off and now Ross is a champion. Those days of being too small to play linebacker seem like a long, long time ago.