The Michigan football team’s underwhelming 2020 season didn’t sit well with senior linebacker Josh Ross.
Since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2017, Ross helped establish a winning program under coach Jim Harbaugh. He was an All-Big Ten selection when Michigan came within a game of the College Football Playoff in 2018, and he made three starts in 2019 before an injury sidelined him until the Wolverines’ New Year’s Six bowl appearance.
Then came the disastrous 2020 season.
Ross was a senior captain on last fall’s 2-4 team that lost as a three-touchdown favorite against Michigan State, fell to Indiana for the first time in three decades, suffered its worst halftime deficit in Michigan Stadium history against Wisconsin and lost to an 0-5 Penn State team by double digits. Before last year, the Wolverines had never finished a full season without a home win. That changed, too.
Ross wasn’t going to let his career end on that note.
“My decision on coming back, it was unfinished business. That was pretty obvious,” Ross told reports via Zoom on Thursday. “Last year was not good enough for myself, not good enough for our team. I felt I had to come back. I had to come back, and we had to prove something and have a chip on our shoulder and go get it. That was my main reason.
“I didn’t know what coaches we were getting yet. Before all that, of course it was a blessing to get the guys we have in the staff now, but at the same time, for me, coming back was about proving myself and proving ourselves as a team and getting better, just building our football knowledge and building everything cause last year wasn’t good enough.”
Ross is returning for a fifth year to try to prove that Michigan is better than its 2020 record. But after Harbaugh hired an almost entirely new defensive staff during the offseason, Ross now finds himself at the center of a schematic overhaul.
Gone are the days of former defensive coordinator Don Brown’s blitz-happy aggression. Harbaugh brought in Mike Macdonald from the Baltimore Ravens and Mo Linguist from the Dallas Cowboys as co-coordinators to replace Brown, signaling a shift toward an NFL-style defense.
To Ross, that change offers the chance to immediately improve a unit that allowed the third-most points in the Big Ten last season. It also presents an opportunity to build on a career that has seen him rack up 136 tackles across 35 appearances.
“As far as myself, I feel like I haven’t really shown everything I can do yet,” Ross said. “But more so not about myself — as a team we haven’t shown what we can really do yet. This year is gonna be big for us.”
There’s no guarantee he’ll return to his 2018 All-Big Ten form after a dropoff in 2020, but Ross could become a centerpiece of the Wolverines’ defense this fall. Whether that translates to winning will ultimately determine if Ross is happy with his decision to return for a fifth year.
“Last year wasn’t good enough as a team,” Ross said. “It wasn’t. I felt that for myself a lot, so I had to come back. There was no option, to be honest, for me.”