FEATURE: Welcome Back Issac Gross
Sept. 15, 2016
Story Featured in the Ole Miss vs. Wofford Football Game Program (Sept. 10)
In the first game of the 2015 season, Ole Miss lost the heart and soul of its defense for the remainder of the year. The Rebels lost one of their best players at getting in the opponent’s backfield. They lost defensive tackle Issac Gross.
Gross had played with a bulging disc throughout the 2014 season. He was stiff all year, but made it through. A simple chip block from a UT Martin guard in the 2015 season opener worsened things severely.
“When he chipped me, he hit me up under the shoulder pads,” Gross said. “I got this numb feeling in my arm. That’s when the midlevel disc was touching my spinal cord. I had to go have it surgically removed.”
Gross’ doctor gave him a favorable, but not certain, prognosis for his return to football, with a 75 percent chance to return to the game. The Batesville, Mississippi, native did not even let the 25 percent creep into his mind.
“I took it as the higher number outweighed the lower number and that I was going to come back either way. Rehab was being mentally tough and working out hard throughout the process.”
Gross was presented a massive hurdle up front by the doctor before the surgery: he would not be able to lift weights for six months. This would be a setback for any football player, but Gross is an undersized defensive tackle at 263 lbs.
“Before I had surgery, I went in strong,” Gross said. “I just worked out all day, every day. I thought about it. I had to come back strong. I had to get strong going into surgery.”
The road to recovery started immediately after surgery for Gross. The day after, in fact, he took matters into his own hands to stay as strong as possible.
“The next day, when I got home, I tried to do a push-up. It didn’t affect me. I started with those push-ups on the first day and had a good body workout going until I was able to lift weights.”
In that time from going under the knife to being able to lift weights again, Gross had to experience a football season where he was just a spectator. This was obviously difficult for a player that had played in 38 games during his first three seasons in Oxford.
“It was tough,” Gross said. “I haven’t sat out since I’ve been here. I didn’t want to show weakness. Everybody looked up to me. I wanted to stay focused and give all my love and encouragement to the guys that were playing. The guys that got injured, I got in their ear and let them know that we have to encourage this team.”
The routine for a player that is injured completely changes. All the other players are watching film and attending meetings, while those that are hurt are in a type of limbo.
“When you’re hurt, it feels like everything is taken away because you don’t have to attend meetings,” Gross said. “Instead of watching film, I would go get stronger.”
Gross is a leader by nature, but what’s impressive is how his teammates still responded to him when he was on the shelf. They looked up to him as a leader, hurt or not.
“When they practiced, I would be out there getting them excited and pumped up,” Gross said. “I felt like I had established myself well enough that even though I wasn’t on the field, guys still respected me enough to listen to me.”
Now, however, Gross is back in action. He gets a senior year, part two in a way. He’s looking to make his last year in the Red and Blue memorable.
“This year, I’m going to give it all I have, every down that I’m in,” Gross said. “I’m going to make sure those guys are going hard and encourage them. When adversity hits, we’re going to stay in a competitive mindset.”
The Rebel defensive tackle takes his role as a senior and captain on this football team seriously. Being in his fifth year, he knows all of his assignments. However, he’s not stopping there."
“With me being a captain on this team, I wanted to learn all the personnel and the plays,” Gross said. “Even though I’m a defensive lineman, I can tell a defensive back what he has to do on this play or who he has to pick up."
During practices, it’s obvious that Gross means what he says. Even when he’s not in, he’s always lingering closer to the action than most of the other players. There he can stay in the younger players’ ears as well as absorb as much as possible.
“I talk to the young guys a lot,” Gross said. “I have a passion for the game. Hopefully, I get to play at the next level one day, or I’ll be coaching. I love everything about football.”
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