Bengals first-round pick missed being at OTAs, but finishing degree worth it

Bengals first-round pick John Ross is attending the team's mini-camp this week after not participating in OTAs while he finished his college degree (AP).

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Bengals first-round draft John Ross was admittedly a little stir crazy while he wasn't able to attend the team's Organized Team Activity sessions over the last month, but he at least had something significant to place his focus: finishing the work to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.

There is an NFL rule that limits players whose schools are on the quarter system to attend only rookie mini-camps until final exams are finished, and the University of Washington, which Ross attended, is on such a system.

The speedy wide receiver did attend rookie mini-camp the first weekend of May, but then headed back to Washington to finish the quarter and earn his degree. He walked in graduation ceremonies this past Saturday and landed his diploma in American Ethnic Studies.

"It was probably bigger than getting drafted in my opinion, just because I feel like it’s something that can’t be taken away from you," said Ross. "It was something for my family. I was the first generation to graduate in my family so it was pretty big for me and everybody. I’ve been playing football all my life and you never know what can happen with that.

"It meant a lot (to my parents). They drove from California. That’s a 16-hour drive. I just know how important it was, just to see my parents faces after I graduated, to see how happy my father was, how happy my mom was. They were way more excited than I was, and from that standpoint, I knew how much it meant to them. I was so ready to get here. They were just so ready to see me walk across the stage. It meant a lot to me."

After celebrating with his family on Saturday night, Ross hopped a plane on Sunday bound for Cincinnati and the start of this week's mandatory mini-camp. Ross still isn't cleared medically from recent shoulder surgery to do much more than walk-through drills, but he said it's good to be able to focus on football again.

He took a playbook with him when he went back to Washington following rookie mini-camp and said he stayed in constant contact with coaches to ensure he didn't fall too far behind, but that didn't make it any easier to be away from his new profession.

"Knowing the circumstances of it kind of made it easier knowing the fact I was chasing after my degree ... but it was tough not being around the team and not being able to learn the new material and not being around the coaches," said Ross. "It wasn’t like I was sitting around. Knowing that I was able to go to classes and be distracted by something other than working out and going home and sitting around. I had homework, I had family things. There were a lot of things I had to do.”

Carolina Panthers first-round pick Christian McCaffrey was in a similar situation to Ross, because he attended Stanford University, which is also on the quarter system, but McCaffrey actually dropped out of school prior to the draft and still wasn't able to attend the Panthers OTA sessions. McCaffrey openly expressed his displeasure about the rule not allowing him to attend the OTAs.

"I definitely understand what he went through, because there were times like weekends for me and Memorial Day that was basically a work day that I had off with no class. I worked out and went home and was like, ‘What’s next?,’ " said Ross. "You look at the playbook all day and study and there was nothing else you want to do than be around football, but you can’t be around your team. I was still working out at my college, but those guys were busy doing team stuff and I can’t join them. It was definitely frustrating.”

That's all behind Ross now, and he's just happy to look forward. He's expected to be cleared medically by the time training camp starts on July 27.

"It’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to learn, but it’s a long process," said Ross. "I haven’t played since January. I love this game. I already love my teammates. We’re having a good time. I get along with everyone, which was anticipated, so I’m just happy to showcase and do everything I can for this team. I was definitely excited (to come back to Cincinnati). As soon as I got my diploma I was ready to fly as soon as they handed it to me. I was excited to get started.”

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