Tavon Ross tossed three 25-pound weights on one side of the barbell.
The Bleckley County senior added the same weight to the other side and shortly thereafter hoisted the near 200 pounds of weight and let it rest across his collarbone for a photograph.
This exercise was a welcome reprieve from the much heavier weight that has been crushing his shoulders for the past three weeks.
In the span of one month, Ross went from a mostly anonymous recruit committed to Missouri to one of the most hotly pursued high school players in Georgia.
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Ross is expected to decide between Georgia, Miami and Missouri on National Signing Day on Wednesday. The shy and private Ross committed to Missouri on Aug. 28 and hasn’t backed off his commitment, so he could always just fax his national letter-of-intent to Columbia, Mo., in the morning with little fanfare. He could send the morning fax to Athens or Coral Gables, Fla., as well. Or the senior could make his decision public in front of an audience at 1:30 p.m. at Bleckley County’s media center, when his signing day ceremony will take place. Most committed players have a ceremony during the day, but they usually fax their letter-of-intent early in the morning.
Ross hasn’t signaled which way he is leaning, although he has remained committed to Missouri even through official visits to Georgia and Miami.
His blonde mohawk haircut notwithstanding, Ross doesn’t like the attention of the recruiting season, his coaches said. He’d prefer to make this decision in quiet, well away from the public eye.
He nearly had that wish.
Ross had five FBS scholarship offers -- Charlotte, Marshall, Missouri, Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky -- entering the 2013 high school season. He committed to his only BCS offer Missouri two days before the start of the 2013 season without ever having stepped foot on campus in Columbia. He didn’t receive much communication from other schools after committing.
With the college decision out of the way, Ross could focus on the football season, which was a historic one for the Royals.
Ross, a three-year starter at quarterback who added playing safety to his repertoire as a senior, led the Royals to a 9-3 mark and the first home playoff win in program history in 2013. He led his team to the playoffs three straight seasons and secured the first two home playoff games in program history.
But he also excelled at safety, where he finished with 87 tackles, six interceptions and four defensive touchdowns.
Missouri recruited Ross to play safety, and his play during his senior year at that position made the Tigers’ coaching staff look like they used a crystal ball for recruiting.
Ross was an All-Middle Georgia selection, made the Georgia Sports Writers Association all-state team and was named the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Class AA south defensive player of the year.
His defensive highlight tape made its way across the region following the season. College coaches quickly realized they’d made a mistake in not pursuing Ross earlier.
“Most of them said they got (the tape) late, or they didn’t think I’d have the grades,” Ross said. “I guess they just overlooked me.”
The interest came just as college coaches entered a recruiting dead period in late December, prohibiting face-to-face contact between coaches and recruits. Ross had a sense his profile raised some with his senior tape getting out, and the postseason accolades sure didn’t hurt. The breadth of the attention surprised him.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen like this,” Ross said. “I thought maybe a few would come in, but then it just went, ‘Boom.’ ”
Georgia Southern offered, hoping it could steal Ross away from Missouri if he decided he didn’t want to travel halfway across the country for school.
Georgia, which monitored Ross’ progress throughout the season through Bulldogs offensive line coach Will Friend, sent new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Friend to Cochran shortly after Pruitt left Florida State to join the Georgia coaching staff. The Bulldogs offered him a day after the dead period ended. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart dropped by a day later and offered a scholarship, and Miami offered a day later.
“This has pushed about six months of recruiting into about two weeks,” Bleckley County football head coach Tracy White said. “It’s been hectic, to say the least.”
Ross decided to visit Georgia, and he knew he wanted to visit Missouri -- White said Ross appreciates that Missouri offered first and feels a sense of loyalty to the Tigers. Because he only had three weeks open before signing day, Ross had only one spot left to decide between visiting Alabama and Miami. He chose Miami because he was intrigued by an offer to play running back for the Hurricanes. Auburn also has offered and tried to convince Ross to postpone his signing so he can visit this upcoming weekend. White said Ross declined that offer.
Ross didn’t reveal much about the official visits and didn’t offer hints to which way he is leaning. White said Ross does feel a deep obligation to Missouri for sticking with him throughout the process. The Royals’ standout was at least somewhat warm to the idea of playing running back at Miami. And while he didn’t grow up a Georgia fan, Ross did forge a solid relationship with the Bulldogs’ assistants, as well as head coach Mark Richt.
Ross hasn’t gone many days since Jan. 13 without visiting with a coach or two. He called the past three weeks “super crazy.” The parade of coaches was so dense that it wasn’t unusual for opposing coaches to run into each other around Cochran while recruiting Ross.
Bleckley County athletics director Benjy Rogers said Ross would be much more comfortable sitting in a duck blind while hunting or hunkered down near a pond or a lake fishing.
“This is just Tavon,” Rogers said. “He’s a shy kid and doesn’t really like all this attention.”
For at least one more day, Ross will have plenty of attention focused on him.