CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (BP) -- For most of this season Isaiah Ross and the rest of the Woodland High School football team faced plenty of obstacles, with the first six games scheduled against the best in their region.
Photo by Paris Mountain Photography
A 27-3 loss to Villa Rica High School the first week of their season would be their best outcome. The Wildcats would go on to be outscored 206-0 during their next five Friday nights. A 49-0 loss Sept. 20 ensured Woodland its 15th year of not having a winning season in 16 years of existence.
"It was tough," acknowledges Ross, a senior at Woodland High School and member of Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs, Ga. "I was struggling and down on myself."
Things hit a low point Sept. 27 against North Paulding High School. Primarily a linebacker, Ross had moonlighted in the Wildcat offense as a blocking fullback. Against North Paulding he barely came off the field and carried the ball more in order to provide an offensive spark.
A win would have been a long shot against the 3-1 Wolfpack, but it would have been equally as important for Woodland to finally score its first touchdown of the year, albeit a month into the season.
Neither happened, as the Wolfpack pummeled the Wildcats 56-0.
"Of course, I wanted us to win in those first games," Ross says. "I wanted to have a winning season."
That goal was no longer possible. Still, this was a team Ross saw as better than its record indicated. Losing had become contagious and so was the resulting self-perception. As the team's leader, Ross wasn't about to allow that to fester. There was still something to play for, he says.
"As those games went on, I wanted us to be about getting better and competing."
In other words, to never give up.
A place to grow
A few years ago, Jon Vernon, an assistant football coach at Woodland, took note of Ross, an 8th grader at the time from South Central Middle School -- which fed into Woodland High School. Ross participated in drills with the varsity. Ross' physical skills were apparent enough, but something else caught Vernon's attention.
"Isaiah has a glowing personality and is always smiling. People are naturally drawn to him," Vernon says. "What I saw about him, though, was his spiritual maturity."
Ross says that maturity began to develop early in his life. "I was saved in the fourth grade, but lived for myself. For a long time I wasn't growing as a Christian."
When Ross was in the seventh grade, he and his 12 siblings were placed under the care of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and were divided up among several foster homes. That time would have been tough for any kid dealing with his middle school years, but the concept of "family" is important to Ross, who describes himself as a protector, particularly of his sisters.
That summer Ross went to a church camp, where "God showed [him] a lot of things."