It has been several years since Florida has been seriously involved with a prospect from Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland. Actually, the year was 2005, Urban Meyer's first year in Gainesville, that the Gators were able to land a player from the powerhouse program.
That year the Gators signed cornerback Avery Atkins and tight end Brian Ellis.
After failing to qualify coming out of high school, Ellis never made it to Gainesville. On the other hand, Atkins went on to start at the University of Florida before being released from UF in the summer of 2006. Not long afterward, he met a tragic end due to a combination of ecstasy intoxication and carbon monoxide poisoning.
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Now, another Buccaneer is starting to make a name for himself.
O.J. Ross is currently rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. The No. 43 ranked wide receiver in the nation.
Though Mainland has sent quite a few of its players to the next level over the years, including Antonio Bell (NEB), Cruz Barrett (NEB), Kirby Watson (MAR) and Tony Wilson (UGA), none of them have played to the level of Atkins.
Ross hopes to break that streak, and with good reason.
"Avery is my cousin," explained Ross. "He was a big role model for me. He still is my role model. I learned a lot about football and recruiting from him and I want to use what he taught me to help me be a good player to honor him. I look up to him."
So far, so good.
As a junior the 5-foot-10, 170-pound speedster led the area with 34 catches for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns while being named first team All-Area by the Daytona Beach News-Journal and honorable mention All-State in Class 5A.
Despite what can only be described as an up-and-down stay in Gainesville by his late cousin, Ross still calls the Gators his favorite football team.
"I'm a fan of Florida," said Ross. "That's always been my number-one team. I've always watched them. I've always followed them. I've been there."
This past week, UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong became one of the many college coaches to venture over to Florida's east coast this spring to check in on Ross.
According to Ross, Kentucky, Texas Tech, Michigan, Arkansas, Duke, Tulane among others have joined the Gators on the Mainland campus.
Though UF was the childhood favorite, they aren't currently leading the pack.
"Florida's interested in me," proclaimed Ross, "but they haven't offered. I have offers from Texas Tech, Arkansas and Ole Miss this spring. My top three are Arkansas, Michigan and FIU. I like Arkansas, Michigan and Florida International. I've talked to the coach from Arkansas before, he's real cool. I like coach (Rod) Smith at Michigan. FIU is the local school. Close to home and a chance to play. If Florida offers I'm very interested in them."
This summer Ross says that his plans are to camp at both Florida and Georgia.