A few days into spring football, Colorado coaches began talking about Devin Ross and how impressed they were with his play.
Midway through the spring, coaches and players kept talking about Ross.
By the end of spring, it was nearly impossible to ask anyone at CU about the most impressive players on the team without having them mention Ross.
“He made some good plays,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said after Ross caught all eight passes thrown his way during the spring game. “Devin’s had a good spring.”
Ross needed a good spring, because his sophomore season was disappointing. A 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver, Ross caught 25 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns last season, but grabbed more attention for his drops.
Throughout the season, he had several drops, including two critical drops, both in the end zone, during a 35-31 loss at UCLA on Oct. 31. Those are plays that haunt Ross to this day.
“I have this picture from the UCLA game last year when it was in my hands and I dropped it,” he said. “I have it in my room, so that’s my motivation right now.
“I can’t let that happen to me ever again. That was heartbreaking.”
Not everybody who talks about wanting to get better is willing to put in the effort to make it happen. Ross knew he struggled and has spent the offseason doing something about it.
First, he pinpointed his mistake and recognized that he was not focused enough on the simple act of catching the ball. He was letting his mind fast-forward a bit.
Throughout the spring, he made sure to concentrate on every pass and worry, first and foremost, about hauling it in. His ability to do that allowed Ross to showcase his entire skill set, which includes exceptional speed and strong hands.
Putting all of his skills on display, spring was a bit of a fresh start for Ross, with CU hiring Darrin Chiaverini as the new receivers coach.
“It was just a great feeling for me because that was my main goal coming in,” Ross said of having a big spring. “It was just fun to prove my new coach what I can do.”
With CU’s all-time leading receiver Nelson Spruce now preparing for the NFL draft, the Buffs need somebody to step into the lead role. While many believe junior Shay Fields or transfer Juwann Winfree are the top candidates to do that, Ross’ performance in spring suggests he might get into that conversation, too.
“That’s another one of my goals is showing that I can be a No. 1 target,” he said. “Since Nelson is gone now, it’s wide open. I’ve been working hard. I want (MacIntyre) to believe in me every play.”
CU’s revamped passing offense could allow for Fields, Winfree, Ross and several others to put up big numbers.
This offense, which features a lot of the concepts of Texas Tech’s air-raid offense, has been known to make stars out of slot receivers. Wes Welker and Danny Amendola — who both went on to great success in the NFL — both put up huge numbers as slot receivers at Tech.
Ross has the speed to line up outside, but is likely to play mostly in the slot. Either way is fine with him.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes for my team,” he said.
With spring ball over, Ross now aims to carry the momentum into the summer. He’ll spend part of his summer at home in Southern California. While there, he said he will work out with his cousin, Steven Mitchell Jr., who is a slot receiver at USC, as well as Trojans quarterback Max Brown and Utah quarterback Brandon Cox.
When he returns in the fall, Ross is hoping to prove his spring was just the beginning.
“When I go home, I’m going to be working out every day,” he said. “That’s the most important part, when you’re by yourself and no coaches are watching. You have to work hard and push through it.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.