A Valley first

Coldbrook’s Connor Ross selected by Ottawa in CFL Draft

2022-05-12T07:00:00.0000000Z

2022-05-12T07:00:00.0000000Z

SaltWire Network

https://saltwire.pressreader.com/article/281681143470046

SPORTS

Connor Ross grew up dreaming of playing professional football. “I think it’s always been on every kid’s mind since they put a helmet on their head,” said the Coldbrook native. “It’s always a dream I’ve had since I was a kid.” The 23-year-old son of Janet and David Ross took another step towards realizing that dream earlier this week. On May 9, the St. F.X. University student left Antigonish for Ottawa to attend rookie camp after being drafted in the seventh round (58th overall) by the Ottawa Redblacks on May 4. He is the first guy to play his minor football in the Annapolis Valley to be drafted by a CFL team. “It still, to this day, doesn’t really feel like a reality,” the proud Valley Bulldogs and Central Kings Gators alumnus said in a May 6 interview. The six-foot-one, 250pound tight end was drafted as a fullback and long snapper. “I’m physical. I love blocking and getting my nose dirty,” Ross said. “I’m also able to catch the ball and I am tough to take down.” Larry Priestnall, one of his coaches at Central Kings Rural High School, was “absolutely thrilled” for Ross, who he said persevered through hard work and dedication. “Connor worked so hard and put so much into it and he’s just gotten better and better and better and … look what happens,” he said. “It’s a big deal for this community of Coldbrook and this part of Nova Scotia.” Rob Suffron, a former president of the Valley Bulldogs, which dates back to 1999, said Ross is a great role model for the next generation to aspire to. “Connor is a great Bulldog,” he said. “He’s one of those guys you mention when you’re trying to inspire kids. And then when you’re around him, you understand why he is where he is. He’s just a great kid.” FIRST STEPS Ross was eight years old when he began playing football with the Bulldogs and the camaraderie within the sport quickly appealed to him. “It doesn’t matter what kind of walk of life you’re from, as long as you’ve got a jersey on, you’re family,” he said. “It’s kind of a brotherhood and you always look out for one another. The bonds and friendships you make throughout football is kind of unmatched. It’s such a team sport.” He played all positions growing up, except guard and tackle on the offensive line. Ross was a key cog for the Gators, who won Division 2 and Division 3 titles during a pair of undefeated seasons at the Cambridge school. Priestnall said Ross was a hard-running player who was tough to tackle. He called him dominant and versatile. “He did everything on the offence and everything on the defence, too.” The Gators’ football program was still relatively new at that time, having only joined the then Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation in 2008. Now he is its first CFLdrafted player. “It’s kind of surreal, to be honest,” Ross said. “It feels good to be kind of be an example. It doesn’t matter where you start or where you come from, as long as you work … you can do it.” Priestnall said Ross is proof players will get noticed by playing the game the right way and investing the time to improve. “You don’t have to go to the … big schools. If you’ve got the talent and want to play and work hard, it doesn’t matter.” UNIVERSITY Ross had played on an under17 provincial team for Dave Van Den Heuvel, who is on the St. F.X. coaching staff. That connection, along with the program’s family atmosphere, helped the teenager decide to join the X-Men. “Everyone truly cares about one another.” Making the transition from high school to university as the level of play improves dramatically is tough. “Every recruit that comes out of high school thinks they’re the top dog because they were back on their high school team,” Ross said. But few players can make the transition seamlessly and contribute right away. Ross could read the tea leaves with two fourth-year veterans ahead of him on the tight end depth chart in Antigonish. “I kind of looked for other opportunities to get on the field.” It meant working hard and showing he could contribute on special teams. And when he got his opportunity, making the most of it. He continued to work hard in practice and soak up as much knowledge from his older teammates and the coaching staff while training in the weight room to get stronger and faster. “You see slow and steady improvement,” he said. “When you’re kind of in the heat of it, you don’t really notice it until you take a step back.” DRAFT Ross was invited to a regional draft combine near Montreal on March 11. It included physical testing like the bench press and 40-yard dash, as well as some other drills. He admitted to not being a well-known prospect heading into the combine but knew he only had something to prove to himself. A message from his father stood out to him during the day. David reminded him to take a step back, take a deep breath and realize how cool it was he had the opportunity. Almost two months later, he watched the draft with his father and roommates. He won’t forget the moment his name popped up on the screen just after midnight. “My heart jumped up to 200 beats per minute,” he said. “(I) enjoyed it for the night and then the next morning got right back to work.” NEXT STEP Ross is now back at a similar spot he was upon joining the X-Men, trying to do everything he can to earn a spot on the roster. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said, noting he is up for the challenge. Regardless of where the future takes him, one thing will remain constant for Ross – his love for his home community. He said he is appreciative of the Bulldogs’ and Gators’ organizations, and it goes deeper than the players, coaching staff and executive to the people who worked in the canteen and prepared the field to the parents who drove their kids to practices and games to enable them to play football. “(I’m) very thankful where I came from,” he said. Suffron, now Football Nova Scotia’s president, said Ross’s accomplishments are great for the sport in the region. “His football days started on that grass field out in Canning and now it’s taking him to the nation’s capital and that’s pretty special.”

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