This summer, The Jackson Suburbanite will follow three Jackson High School athletes as they balance preparations for the fall sports season with their other commitments. Next week, catch up with senior running back Ricky Spradling as he trains for the follow-up to a record-breaking season.

This summer, The Jackson Suburbanite will follow three Jackson High School athletes as they balance preparations for the fall sports season with their other commitments. Next week, catch up with senior running back Ricky Spradling as he trains for the follow-up to a record-breaking season.

The offseason is where mental toughness and physical preparation collide for Jackson senior lineman Mike Ross.

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive and defensive lineman is already immersed in offseason training and conditioning, including working out with his teammates four times a week. As more than 50 members of the team work their way through lifting sessions and outdoor conditioning drills, Ross does his best to embody leadership and help his teammates develop the toughness groove they'll need this fall.

"It's tough. It's honestly tough, but we're here as a group, we're here as the rock and we're here to push each other through," Ross said. "It's about being mentally strong."

Three times a week, Ross joins his fellow offensive linemen in the weight room for an hour of work that focuses on developing their upper and lower bodies for the physical pounding of playing on the line. Dead lifts, overhead presses and squats are on the agenda, but so are quickness and agilty drills.

The sight of a 290-pound offensive lineman doing box jumps takes a moment to process, but such exercises improve expressiveness and allow Ross the build the burst it takes to push opposing linemen off the ball in games.

Whatever exercises the coaching staff sets up for the day, the same mentality goes into each one, according to Ross.

"It's 100 percent about being a family, it's about being a team and it's about working as one," Ross said. "There's definitely an air of toughness, an air of pushing each other and aggressiveness in the weight room … leave nothing left in the tank."

Having seen the school's baseball team claim its first state championship this spring, Ross and the rest of the Polar Bears were reminded of their own aspirations to win a Federal League championship, reach the playoffs and make a title push.

That sort of push demands physical strength and endurance and, in order to say fueled up for the road ahead, the senior lineman makes sure he's putting the necessary ingredients into his body throughout the day.

"Drinking and eating a lot of protein, drinking a ton of water – at least two gallons a day," Ross said of his core nutritional principles. "You also eat a snack or meal pretty much every two hours."

The extra calories, Ross noted, are important on days like this past Monday, when an hour in the weight room was followed by "15 40's," a conditioning drill in which each position group must run a series of 15 wind sprints of 40 yards, completing each run as a group in the allotted time. For the linemen, the standard was 7.7 seconds, a number that became tougher to hit as fatigue set in after several sprints.

Clad in a black technical shirt, Ross remained among the first linemen across the finish line each time. He pushed through the fatigue by reminding himself that the toughness and endurance being built on a muggy June morning will equip him for those fall evenings when one more yard is the difference between victory and defeat.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8396 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB