Many thought the 6-foot-1, 254 pound Issac Gross wouldn’t make it in the Southeastern Conference as a defensive tackle, but the Ole Miss freshman is proving those critics wrong.
Gross, a native of Batesville and product of well-known South Panola High School, entered Ole Miss as the No. 35 overall recruit in the nation, third at his position, and also as the No. 1 player in the state of Mississippi. Despite the questions and pressure, Gross has performed exceedingly well for the Rebels this season, recording 34 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
“I came up here during the spring, I learned everything, and I got out here and was going to give whatever it took to play,” Gross said. “I was going to play, and I was going to give it my all.”
Gross said he was aware of all the talk of his size, but he feeds off his teammates and coaches to help him stay strong in the trenches.
“Some games I wish I did have a little bit more size and a few more inches in height,” Gross said. “But just playing off the guys next to me and the coaches I’m playing for, it’s just a lot going in and out of me playing for Mississippi. It’s just something I’m playing for out there. Size doesn’t mean anything. I’m just out there playing ball.”
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has mentioned many times over the course of the season that Gross has great speed off the ball, and Gross said that is what he uses to help him play against some of the biggest interior linemen in the country.
“First step off the ball, make sure I hit them before they hit me,” he said. “Just key in and lock in on the guy in front of me and get my eyes out of the backfield. I have to attack the man in front of me first then go from there.”
With all the success he has had this year, Gross has been able to keep his mind off what the future holds for him and hone in on the task at hand for Ole Miss.
“I haven’t really even thought about next year,” Gross said. “Really, I’m just thinking about finishing up this season, hoping I get to a bowl and take things one season at a time.”
Gross also noted the pain of losing, something he is not used to experiencing coming from a high school team that is known for winning state championships.
“I’m not used to losing,” Gross said. “It hurts to lose, especially last minute like that (against Vanderbilt) because it feels like somebody took it away from you. Every week, I come out with a chip on my shoulder and that adds more to it. It was a devastating loss and it hurt, but we are going to prepare all week.”
After experiencing nearly a full season of football at Ole Miss, Gross said he was able to visit with some recruits this past weekend that the Rebels are hoping to secure for the future and talk to them a bit about Ole Miss.
“I got to visit with Finesse (Middleton), a guy out of Alabama, Tony Conner from my school and Robert Nkemdiche,” Gross said. “All I said was we would like to have them here. We’ve got the right coaches. I’m not forcing anybody, you know. I would love for them to come here and play, but I don’t want anyone to come here and be uncomfortable. I want you to come here, and when I talked to them, I said, ‘We need you, and you’re going to look really good here. Spots are wide open, and we are just looking for ball players, so whoever is going to come in with the team and play hard-nosed football, we are looking for you.’”
When asked if he thought that the program is closer to winning than most people think, Gross responded with a simple, “Yes, sir.”
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