While heavily recruited, Michigan native linebacker Josh Ross only took one official visit during his college recruitment: Ann Arbor. His older brother James played at Michigan from 2012-15, amassing 50 games appearances and 188 tackles in his career. While a successful career, James carried the burden of never beating Ohio State — a burden inherited by Josh when he signed with the Wolverines in 2017.
As a freshman, Ross entered a crowded linebacker room with the likes of Devin Bush, Mike McCray and Noah Furbush playing the majority of the available snaps. But Ross found a way onto the field in every game thanks to his contributions on special teams.
Exceptional special teams play would continue to co-author Ross’ success all five years at Michigan. Special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh called Ross the “best frontline blocker we’ve had in the last seven years” after the 2021 season. However, Ross was too talented to exclusively contribute on special teams and in 2018, he cracked the linebacker rotation.
As a sophomore, Ross tallied 61 tackles and earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors from both the media and coaches. But in two seasons at Michigan, Ross still shouldered his brother’s burden and had only extended their family tradition of losing to Ohio State.
Ross played in 26 games during his first two years at Michigan, but due to injury and COVID-19, he would only play in 10 over his next two. In 2019, Ross was injured in the third game of the season during a blowout loss to Wisconsin. Although Ross would return in limited action against Alabama in the Citrus Bowl, the season was a disappointment for him and the team.
The 2020 season only yielded further hardships in a shortened six-game season. While he was elected a team captain and started every game, the defense was historically bad and the Wolverines suffered their first losing season since 2014.
When the dust settled following a 2-4 campaign, Ross had a choice: depart for the NFL or return for a fifth season; jump ship or right it.
Despite having to play for a new defensive coordinator (Mike Macdonald) and his third linebacker coach (George Helow) during his collegiate career, Ross decided to return to the Wolverines. Most importantly, he still owed it to his big brother to finish what he started and beat Ohio State.
Again elected a team captain, Ross — alongside fellow defensive team captain Aidan Hutchinson — began to change the culture inside the Michigan football program. Before the 2021 season at the Big Ten Media Days, Ross spoke about this change and the accountability of the players: “We’ve got to change. We’ve got to change our environment. We’ve got to be better leaders. We’ve got to be more accountable. We’ve got to be more and better. We have to do that ourselves. The coaches can’t do that for us.”
The accountability from the seniors rippled throughout the program and changes were heard off the field and quickly seen on it.
In the game against Washington, Ross exploded on the first snap of the game for a violent first tackle of his eventual 11. Ross would hit double digit tackles in four different games in 2021, but his season and career-defining play came against the team his brother never defeated, Ohio State.
Trailing 14-13, the Buckeyes were facing a third and two on their opening drive of the second half. Ohio State true freshman running back TreyVeon Henderson hit the hole, but was emphatically met by Ross and dropped for a loss of two yards.
This stop kept momentum on the side of the Wolverines and three plays later, Michigan was up 21-13. Michigan would go on to beat Ohio State 42-27 and Ross finally accomplished what his brother had tried to do before him.
Ross would receive All-Big Ten honors (third team-media; honorable mention-coaches) for the second time in his career and led the Wolverines in tackles against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship victory and against Georgia in the College Football Playoff loss.
Ross led the nation’s most improved defense with 106 tackles, which were the most by a Michigan player since 2014. No one summed up Ross’s impact better than his latest linebacker coach George Helow: “He’s the heart of the defense, ties all the fronts and coverages together. He’s done a tremendous job. He’s infectious to the people around him,”
From a brother’s foundation, Ross leaves behind a legacy of leadership, endurance, commitment and championships.