Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.
The life of a college football walk-on is far from glamourous.
Playing time is often scarce. Practices are spent with the scout team preparing for that week's opponent. Most walk-ons don't make the travel team, staying home while teammates hit the road for away games. There is no athletic scholarship money for walk-ons either.
But John Ross, a senior defensive end for Dalton High School, doesn't mind any of that. Earlier this season, Ross accepted an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Georgia Tech this fall where he expects to play linebacker. By being a preferred walk-on, Ross is guaranteed a spot on the team.
"Everyone wants to be the star player," Ross said. "I'd love to be a starting linebacker for Georgia Tech. I'm going to go in with the mindset of working as hard as I can, then get on special teams and show the coaches what I can do. I've been working on longsnapping so that could be another way I can get playing time."
Ross transferred to Dalton from Christian Heritage School going into his freshman year. He was no stranger to Dalton Public Schools as he attended Westwood School for two years before attending Christian Heritage. Ross said transferring to Dalton was the best decision he's ever made. During his career at Dalton, Ross has played both linebacker and defensive end.
Playing college football has long been in Ross' plans. He looked at smaller schools, such as Sewanee in Tennessee, but always had the dream of playing at a big-time program. Teammate Jahmyr Gibbs, the standout running back who has verbally committed to Georgia Tech, showed Ross's game tape to Georgia Tech coaches and they liked what they saw.
"The most exciting thing is to be able to continue to play football," Ross said. "I wasn't sure what was going to happen after high school. I knew I wanted to play college football. Now that it's happening, I'm just really excited."
Ross said he loved everything about Georgia Tech -- the campus, the academics, the coaches -- and although the Yellow Jackets have struggled to a 2-7 record under first-year coach Geoff Collins, Ross believes Collins "definitely has the program going in the right direction."
Before his playing career transitions from high school to college, Ross and his Catamount teammates have some work to finish. Dalton (7-3, 5-3 in Region 6-6A) opens the state playoffs tonight with a road game at Dacula (10-0, 5-0 in Region 8-6A), which is northeast of Atlanta. Ross understands the team has a challenge in facing the No. 10 team in Class 6-A, but said they are up for it.
"We're in the playoffs so that's all you can ask for," Ross said. "Anything can happen."