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Thanks, John Ross

In what will be the first of a few of these, we say goodbye to a faithful Dawg one year earlier than hoped.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Colorado vs Washington Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It was over before we even knew it. Kinda like one of his record 40 yard dashes.

John Ross, Washington’s star kick returner, defensive back and wide receiver has elected to exit Washington and depart for the NFL draft following a record-setting junior season that saw his Huskies make its first-ever push into the college football playoffs.

The UW beat writers have been capturing all of the plaudits.

We’ll obviously have more time to talk about the legacy of John Ross as we track his progress through the scouting combine and into the the NFL draft.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t note that role that John Ross played in ushering in the Chris Petersen era. Even considering what Shaq Thompson did for the team as a part-time running back, there may not have been any single player more critical to the successful culture conversion that Petersen and his staff worked to usher in once they arrive three seasons ago.

Consider that Ross had already established his mark as a both a successful special teamer and wide receiver in Steve Sarkisian’s pecking order. He had nearly 1000 all purpose yards during his true freshman year on a team that featured several productive offensive players including Kevin Smith, Kasen Williams, Austin Serafin-Jenkins and Jaydon Mickens. His kickoff return for a TD against BYU in the Foster Farms Bowl was a dagger-in-the-heart play that not only won Husky legend Marques Tuiasosopo his only game as a head coach, but cemented his perception as a “phenom” among Husky fans who hadn’t previously seen a player quite of his ilk.

When Chris Petersen arrived, the plan for Ross was one of the more ambiguous of any players that Petersen inherited on either side of the ball. Based on how he was used early in the season, Ross seemed destined to be a hitch and bubble-screen kind of guy who the coaches didn’t quite trust to run routes on the outside. In fact, there were rumblings from early in season that many coaches thought Ross was a better corner prospect than receiver prospect.

As it happened, injuries forced the Huskies hand as Petersen asked Ross to make the position switch under coach Jimmy Lake. Ross would go into start four games at corner - more than he started at receiver - and was arguably UW’s best cover corner in 2014. His natural speed and his long arms made him a natural and his technique only got better as the season went on.

You know the rest of the story. Petersen rewarded Ross’s loyalty by giving him the opportunity to switch back to offense in 2015. An off-season injury compelled a red-shirt season which afforded Ross time to refine his game and, importantly to establish a connection with his young quarterback, Jake Browning. The result was a stunning junior season that saw Ross catch 81 balls, rack up over 1100 yards and finish third in the nation in TD catches with 17.

It didn’t have to go that way. Many players would have chafed at the situation were they to be handled in a similar manner as Ross was. But Ross showed his merit, his commitment and his belief in himself in enduring what must have been an awkward and difficult transition. In doing so, he became an unexpected leader in “buying in” to the Petersen philosophy. The results have spoken for themselves.

Ross is a shining star and he will be missed dearly by a Husky team that is still looking to stabilize a receiving unit that may well be the Achilles heel of the program. His personality and productivity, of course, were a delight. That sense that anything can happen if and when J-Ross gets his hands on the ball is a sensation that doesn’t come attached to many players anywhere in college football. We were luck to have it.

Most of all, his leadership in practice and by example has been a touchstone for the program. New leaders will rise to fill the void he leaves behind, but we won’t soon see another one quite like him.