Ross Connors: Best football player in Bellevue history?
Coaches say his “nose for the ball” sets him apart for the Wolverines, who seek a seventh straight state 3A title Friday night.
The Seattle Times
Friday at Tacoma Dome
2B: Napavine vs. Okanogan, 4 p.m.
3A: Bellevue vs. Eastside Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at Tacoma Dome
1A: Cascade Christian vs. Colville, 10 a.m.
2A: Sedro-Woolley vs. Lynden, 1 p.m.
1B: Neah Bay vs. Liberty Christian, 4 p.m.
4A: Bothell vs. Chiawana, 7:30 p.m.
BELLEVUE — Some boys grow up dreaming of the bright lights of the NFL. Others yearn to play on Saturdays for their favorite college team.
All Ross Connors ever wanted was to be a Bellevue Wolverine.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play here,” said Connors, a senior who plays a hybrid of linebacker and defensive back for Bellevue. “I’ve never even thought about (playing in) college or anything like that. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be a Wolverine.”
More than a decade after the first time an awestruck kid first sat on the metal bleachers of Bellevue Memorial Stadium, Connors will strap on his pads, buckle his helmet and lead the Wolverines for the last time. It is the final chapter for a defensive player who coach Butch Goncharoff says may be the best to emerge from his storied program.
“We’ve had a lot of good ones,” Goncharoff said. “He’s special, though.”
That is no small honor considering Bellevue has been saturated with Division I talent for more than a decade and seeks its seventh consecutive Class 3A state high-school football championship at 7:30 Friday night at the Tacoma Dome when it plays Eastside Catholic. For proof, look no further than the last two Seattle Times state players of the year, Budda Baker and Myles Jack. Baker is a starting safety for Washington as a freshman and Jack is the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at UCLA.
“He is kind of what it’s about,” Goncharoff said of Connors. “It’s hard to explain what it’s about, but heart outweighs talent, and he has heart and brains.”
If there are 20 big plays in a game, Goncharoff claims Connors will be in on 18 of them.
Despite that, Connors will not be named the state’s top player, and he hasn’t been highly recruited. He’s deciding between the Air Force Academy and Harvard. Generously listed at 5 feet 11 and185 pounds, there isn’t anything that physically stands out about Connors.
“He’s not as fast as Budda was or as big as Myles was, but he plays just as fast,” defensive-backs coach John Coombs said. “Football speed, instincts, reaction time. There’s no wasted movement. He sees it, he trusts what he sees and he plays with a ton of confidence, and ultimately makes more plays than anybody out there.
“He’s got a really natural feel for the game. A lot of what makes a good football player is stuff that we always say that jumps out on film … He’s got a nose for the ball.”
Despite being a true defensive back, Connors, who is a three-year letterman, found a logjam at the position his sophomore year. But with the level of production he was giving Bellevue, the coaching staff needed to find a way to keep him on the field.
So he became a linebacker.
Connors’ future is as a defensive back, but he has performed so well as a linebacker that Bellevue uses that versatility to its advantage. He thinks of himself as a defensive back — the roster lists him as one, as well — but Connors lines up as a linebacker. He’ll be deployed everywhere on the field, though, whether it’s in run support or the secondary.
“I don’t match up size-wise with most other linebackers, so I like to include myself in the DBs, then I can seem a little bit bigger,” Connors said with a laugh.
On Monday, Connors sat on a bench overlooking the football field on the Bellevue campus. Outfitted in a gray Bellevue football sweatshirt and sweatpants, he remembered when he would beg his dad to take him to games before he was old enough to play in the Wolverines’ youth program as a second-grader.
“It could be rainy and cold, and he would watch,” said his dad, John. “He would never want to leave. He’d want to stay until the very end no matter what the end was.”
More than a decade later, Connors will emerge from the program he once watched from the bleachers as one of the best to wear Bellevue blue and yellow. And his dream sparked at such an early age? It’s still there.
“I think that dream won’t be totally realized,” Connors said, “until I get to hopefully hold up a trophy Friday night.”
Josh Liebeskind: 206-464-2098 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: jlieb24