Cooper Ross signs with BYU

Joined by his mother, Stephanie and father, Rod, Heritage Academy tight end and defensive end Cooper Ross made his college destination official on Thursday, Dec. 16 when he signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I college football at BYU.

Four years ago, Cooper Ross was told by doctors he wouldn’t be able to play football again.

His Type 1 diabetes had nearly sent him into Ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition that stems from abnormally high blood sugar levels. His levels were off the charts, but he prevailed.

He was able to return to football for Heritage Academy, a small charter school in Mesa that plays 8-man football in the Canyon Athletic Association. Despite his large frame and natural talent on the field, he was told he wouldn’t ever make it to the Division I college level because of where he played. Just like when doctors told him he couldn’t step foot on the gridiron, he again proved the naysayers wrong.

In front of a packed auditorium at Heritage’s campus near downtown Mesa on Thursday, Dec. 16, Ross signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I football at Brigham Young University. After his two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end and defensive end will join the Cougars.

“It’s a relief,” Ross said. “I’m glad I finally got signed and I’m glad to be heading up there. I’m going to prove myself at BYU. I want to do my best up there.”

Ross was joined by his parents during the signing. Stephanie and Rod, his parents, have been by his side throughout the process. He said having them there made the moment even more special.

“They’re everything for me,” Ross said. “They’ve taught me everything I know, and they’ve guided me along in this process. I really appreciate them.”

Ross is the first player to come out of the Heritage football program that signed with a Division I school. But he may not be the last.

Head coach Jose Portilla and his staff, which includes Spencer Bowers, Colton Reese and others, have taken it upon themselves to bring attention to their program and its players. Portilla played for the University of Arizona and spent time in the NFL.

He knew from the day Ross stepped on campus he could be a special player. That came to fruition.

“This young man showed up to the school as a little tiny stick, and look at him now,” Portilla said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. It’s a chapter in a book where you can now close it and look back on it as a success.”

Ross’ goal throughout his career was to bring attention to 8-man football and what it had to offer. Especially playing in the CAA, a smaller high school athletic association compared to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, athletes are often overlooked. It became even more difficult not playing 11-man football.

But Ross proved there are always diamonds in the rough. And he hopes this is just the beginning for programs like Heritage, which won two state championships and competed for a third this season with him on the roster.

There was a point in time where Ross considered transferring to a bigger school nearby. He thought he would receive more exposure on the field. But he stuck with Heritage. And that, he said, was one of the best decisions he ever made. He now hopes to leave a lasting legacy.

“Hard work, works,” Ross said. “If you believe in yourself, things will work out.”

He doesn’t know yet where he will serve his mission. He is hopeful he is called to serve in England.

After two years, he will officially enroll at BYU as part of the 2024 recruiting class. By then, the Cougars will be in the Big 12 Conference. Currently, they are an Independent.

Ross hopes he can make an immediate impact once he is in Provo. Not only does he hope to further his football career for as long as possible, but he hopes to bring more attention to where he came from while playing at the highest collegiate level.

“(Eight-man football) is still the same sport,” Ross said. “You still have to have the same skills. It’s a little bit of a different format but it’s still the same thing. You’re still passing the football, you’re still catching the football and you’re still scoring touchdowns.

“I can’t wait to get up there and keep playing the game.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira

 

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