By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Issac Gross, undersized and proud of it, had his first true show of opponent respect two weeks ago.
Light in the pants, heavy in the heart, the South Panola freshman won the respect of the Ole Miss coaching staff early on.
He was the subject of some intense discussions by his coaches, the question being can you really play – and not redshirt for a year – a 250-pound-ish defensive tackle in the SEC?
Gross has shown them that their “yes” answer was the correct one. Quickness is his strength, and Gross has made it a supreme advantage.
“The main thing is we believe Issac Gross is going to be a phenomenal football player,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The last thing we wanted him to do at 260 pounds is to go through that stretch of Texas and Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, and get dumped on his head a few times and his confidence be rattled. I’m proud to say that has not happened.”
Two weeks ago Auburn offensive linemen paid him the ultimate compliment. They double-teamed him.
It was a ‘C’mon man’ moment.
“I was like, ‘Man, you guys really got to double team 248 or 250 pounds?’” Gross asked. “When you’re getting double-teamed, especially at my position, you know you’re doing something special out there.”
Gross is listed at 6-foot-1, 254 pounds, and with his pads off not everyone recognizes him as a defensive tackle.
“The first time I saw him I thought he was a linebacker or a defensive back,” cornerback Charles Sawyer said. “I’m not surprised by what he’s done. That guy’s got a big heart. Every time he works he does it with a passion and desire to be successful.”
Gross leads Ole Miss interior linemen with 18 tackles. He’s also recorded four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a pressure.
His sack very nearly won the Texas A&M game as he came within inches of downing Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Gross, because of his quickness, was in the backfield alone on that play.
While his strength might have been somewhat more important in high school, quickness was still his game.
At Ole Miss, he’s learned to use his quickness better by using his hands. There were times earlier this season when he lost his balance, because he wasn’t properly using his hands. He exploded into a lineman, only to see his opponent pull or go another direction. Gross just fell in the hole.
Falling in the hole doesn’t happen much, though.
Gross has become a student of the game, praising the schemes of defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and line coach Chris Kiffin, which have him stunting to maximize his quickness.
As Gross lines up for the first play he sizes up the opposition and knows what he has to do to announce his presence.
‘Hit them first’
“I see that everybody’s twice my size. I know, me personally, I’m going to have to hit them first to let them know where I’m at, so I get out there first and I deliver the first blow,” he said.
The early strike is just part of the fun in what for Gross has become a great beginning to college football.
“I love being at home. I’m a Mississippi guy. When I go out there on the field I feel like I’m playing for all of Mississippi,” he said. “I have a lot of passion for my state, a lot of passion for this team, and I just go out there and play.”