Washington High’s Ashanti Ross swore he was done with football.
He had suffered two concussions during his freshman year, then another just before the start of his sophomore season – all from playing football for the Panthers junior varsity.
Doctors advised Ross to take a break from football, if not give it up altogether. His parents encouraged him to do so, too.
“I just figured it was the smartest decision to stop playing,” said Ross, who didn’t play football the past two seasons. “Didn’t want another concussion. I didn’t really miss it.”
That all changed after Ross attended Washington’s first two games as a fan.
Upon getting approval from Panthers coach Dennis Randle to join the team midseason, Ross showed little rust in his return at quarterback and helped alter the remaining course of Washington’s season.
Without Ross, Washington was 0-2.
With him, the Panthers (8-3) have won eight of nine and reached the semifinals of the Central Section Division IV playoffs. No. 3 Washington will play at No. 2 Chavez (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“As soon as he joined the team, he brought leadership and gave us chemistry,” Panthers running back Adam Martinez said of Ross.
A new path
Ross needed his parents’ blessing to play football again.
The last time Ross suffered a concussion – just days before the start of his sophomore season on the JV team – he was hit hard to the ground during practice and went into a daze.
As his JV coach checked on Ross on the football field, a groggy Ross asked his coach if he could turn down the lights. Only, it was afternoon and they were outside.
Ross experienced concussion symptoms for two weeks, sensitive to light and to sound.
8-1 Washington’s record since senior Ashanti Ross rejoined the football team and became the Panthers’ starting quarterback
Football definitely was out of the question that season. But then Ross’ grades starting slipping, too, because of the concussion as he struggled to stay focused in class.
Ross vowed never to play football again.
He wasn’t done completely with sports, though.
Ross continued to play baseball, as he has done since he was 8 years old. And of all positions, he plays catcher, which is the position to most likely attract another concussion.
Ross even picked up another sport and joined Washington’s soccer team as a junior last season after a friend convinced him to join – as the Panthers’ goalkeeper, another position prone to concussions.
“It is ironic that I probably shouldn’t be playing the positions that I enjoy playing the most,” Ross said. “I was warned of the risks. I’ve always played sports since I was little and wanted to keep playing something.”
Ross helped the Washington soccer team win a section title last season.
His friends halfheartedly joked he should come back to the football team and help them to a section title on the gridiron.
Ross never took them seriously.
Washington High quarterback Ashanti Ross suffered three concussions while on the JV team. He didn’t play football the past two years and missed the first two games of this season before rejoining the team.
He knew of all the sports he enjoyed, football was probably the most dangerous for him to play. Besides, he figured his parents wouldn’t approve, either.
“They say once you have a concussion, you’re more susceptible to have more concussions,” said Ross’ mother, Dina Perez, citing articles she read and what her son’s doctors have said.
But as he watched Washington’s first two football games this season, Ross suddenly had a desire to play the sport again. He liked the excitement and energy he felt in the stands, and knew it would feel even better if he was on the field.
Each day for a week, Ross discussed with his parents the pros and cons of returning to football.
Ross understood the risks. He felt he had been away from the sport long enough.
Noticing how enthused he was to play football again, Ross’ parents eventually gave their blessing.
We just were very nervous of what would happen if he got another concussion. But we didn’t want him to look back at his high school days and have any regrets.
Dina Perez, mother of Washington High quarterback Ashanti Ross
“We just were very nervous of what would happen if he got another concussion,” Perez said. “But we didn’t want him to look back at his high school days and have any regrets.”
To a degree, Ross stays cautious when playing football. He tries to limit his scrambles and makes sure he goes out of bounds or slides quickly if he does have to run.
Ross instead prefers to get the ball out quickly to his receivers on Washington’s spread offense or hand it off. Let his playmakers do the playmaking while he just executes the calls and makes the decisions.
Ross’ parents attend each of his games, loudly cheering but also cautiously watching each and every play.
They know the risks. He knows the risks.
But the joy of playing football again is worth it all, Ross said.
“Definitely,” Ross said. “It’s fun being back.”