To say that Ahmad Ross is reflective is putting it mildly.
The sophomore from Hammonton’s Saint Joseph’s High School has been described by many as an “old soul,” a guy who considers matters from multiple angles, a young man who recognizes that individual goals often, if not usually, come to fruition with communal help.
After a career-best performance helped Saint Joseph’s defeat Absecon’s Holy Spirit High School, 41-22, in the Non-Public II state championship Nov. 30 at MetLife Stadium — the Wildcats’ 20th crown since 1993 — Ross thought back to his preparation for “the most important” game of his young career.
“Coming into the game I knew this would be the most important game I ever played in,” said Ross, a running back and linebacker. “I just spent the week reflecting on why I love the game so much. I thought back to all those times I was in my backyard by myself doing drills early in the morning and late at night. I just told myself I worked hard to get to this point, so now it’s time to show the results.
“When I thought back to why I love the game it really just came down to the people around me. My parents, grandmom, aunts, cousins and other loved ones all sacrificed so much for me to be able to be in this position. Also, just being with the team and coaches, this is truly a home away from home.”
It takes Ross about 45 minutes to arrive at school every day. Though it can be grueling to combine athletics with academics, Ross has no regrets.
“A lot of people where I am from don’t get the opportunities God has blessed me with,” said Ross. “I just try my best not to take that for granted and stay as humble as possible.”
Ross was electric on both sides of the ball. He began the scoring with a 16-yard interception return. His 88-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave the Cats a 20-6 halftime lead.
In the fourth quarter, Holy Spirit (8-4 overall) still had life when trailing by 34-22, but Ross extinguished the Spartans’ hope when he took a handoff and rumbled 25 yards to ice yet another Saint Joseph’s title. Ross finished with a career-high 135 yards rushing on only seven carries.
The Wildcats (10-2) also received yet another outstanding contribution from junior star tailback Jada Byers. The 5-foot-7-inch, 165-pound dynamo collected 96 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while adding scoring receptions of 55 and 60 yards, courtesy of sophomore quarterback Jayden Shertel, who also added an interception on defense.
“I’m feeling amazing about the win,” said Byers. “Winning a state championship is exciting. There were a lot of differences in this state title because we faced adversity and people thought we were going down, and we came out on top and got it done. We proved everyone wrong that doubted us.”
Playing on the same field as do the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants was obviously special.
“The stadium was beautiful with an amazing atmosphere,” said Ross. “It was really special for me to be able to play there due to the fact I saw my mother graduate and receive her master’s degree in that same stadium. Just knowing that she went back to school for me shows me that anything is possible with hard work.”
Senior two-way tackle Wisdom Quarshie said he will never forget playing on “such a big, incredible” field. “It’s every young football player’s dream to play in the NFL,” said Quarshie. “To experience that was something none of us will ever forget.”
Quarshie lauded his teammates and coaching staff for their preparation and strategy.
“We were very confident going in,” said Quarshie, who has already committed to play defensive tackle at Temple University beginning next fall. “That makes a big difference. We went out and made plays all game long.”
Before leaving the game with a reported broken collarbone in the fourth quarter, Holy Spirit senior quarterback Ryan Yost fired three touchdown passes. Two of them were corralled by wide receiver Ahmad Brown (five catches, 106 yards). Spartan running back Elijah Gray led all rushers with 153 yards on 25 carries.
(John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)