HUNTINGTON — Out of high school, former Huntington High School offensive lineman Billy Ross became a focal point in recruiting, based on his ability to pave a path for his offense. That led Ross to sign with North Carolina’s football program following his time with the Highlanders.
Now, Ross is paving a path back home for himself.
Ross, who opted out of the 2020 season in August and entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in late September, announced Sunday that he will join Marshall’s program as a graduate transfer for the 2021 season.
For Ross, it is a move that brings his love for college football full circle to the place it originated.
“I remember the atmosphere when I was a kid going to those Marshall games,” Ross said. “I always loved it, and now I actually get to be a part of it. That just means a lot because Marshall has always been my favorite team.”
While Ross chose UNC out of high school, he said that it was down to the wire in recruiting with the Tar Heels and Marshall because the love he had built watching the Thundering Herd as a kid.
After things didn’t work out in Chapel Hill, Ross said he set his sights on coming home.
“I just remember all the games I went to growing up,” Ross said. “I’ve been a lifelong Marshall fan and always wanted to play there. I always kept it in the back of my head when I was in high school and it came down to the wire of not going there then.”
For Ross, the decision was nearly done as soon as he entered the portal, with the Herd coaching staff contacting him almost immediately.
“When I entered the transfer portal, they hit me up within five minutes of me being in there,” Ross said. “When I knew I was transferring, I just knew I was going there. As soon as they called, I gave them my word that it was where I’d go.”
The 2020 season has been full of ups and downs amid COVID-19 concerns, but the subsequent rules set forth by the NCAA following the pandemic helped Ross in the decision for his future. Ross elected to opt out of the 2020 season as allowed under NCAA rules. The NCAA’s allotment of an additional year of eligibility for players means that the 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior should have two years to play at Marshall upon graduation from UNC.
The addition of Ross for the 2021 season bolsters an offensive line that already has five starting senior offensive linemen who are eligible to return.
However, if the Herd should have an offensive lineman elect to leave the program — for example, tackle Josh Ball is gaining extensive NFL interest — then Ross would give Marshall another player in the mix with high-level starting experience.
Ross started 11 games for North Carolina in 2018 and saw action in nine games in 2019 as a reserve.
The situation at Marshall is a best-case scenario for Ross, merging his hometown school with a perfect situation in which he joins a strong team that is setting the bar high with its offensive line play.
“They are a great program and are winning a lot of games,” Ross said. “I know I’ll be coming in with a bunch of guys that are really good players. I feel like they are a great team and we’ll win a lot of games. That would mean a lot to do that because my mom graduated from there and my two sisters go there now.”
Ross said his favorite memory of Marshall games came in 2010 when he attended the Marshall-WVU game. Even though that game ended with a 24-21 overtime loss for the Herd, that atmosphere stuck with Ross and built his love for football.
“I didn’t like the outcome, but I just remember that stadium being as loud as anything I’ve ever heard,” Ross said. “I’ve been to Duke-UNC basketball games, I’ve been to Ohio State-Michigan football games, and that was the loudest stadium I’ve ever heard.”