Ross/Dolezel Combination Continues To Produce Records & Victories
NEW ORLEANS -- This year in the Arena Football League, we saw four quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards and six throw for at least 107 TDs. We watched as Tommy Grady rewrote the record books, throwing for 5,870 yards and 142 TDs on a whopping 743 pass attempts. The Philadelphia Soul went out and signed Clint Dolezel, one of the four men to throw for over 40,000 yards in a career and one of the three to throw for at least 900 TDs, to be their offensive coordinator. Yet after all of this mention of the passing game, it is the rushing game that really gave Philadelphia the edge in 2012.
The Soul rumbled for 796 yards on the ground this year as a team, the second most in the league's history, and their fullback, Derrick Ross broke the record for the most rushing yards in a single season with 645. To put that in perspective, Ross by himself had more rushing yards than any other full team in the league. And, before you think that this was a marred record because of the 18-game season, Ross reached that rushing total in just 16 games played, and his average of 40.3 yards per game on the ground was also a league record.
Ross had three games this year with at least 80 yards rushing. The rest of the players in the league combined for exactly none. In those three games, he combined for 248 total yards on the ground. Five teams didn't do that for the entire season. Ross had 32 rushing touchdowns. The Utah Blaze and Orlando Predators combined for 32 rushing touchdowns for the season. Had he been a team by himself, Ross would have been tied for fourth in the AFL in TDs on the ground. He had at least 13 rushing attempts in three games this year. The rest of the players in the league combined for one game with at least 13 rushing attempts.
Even more impressive is the fact that Ross now ranks fifth in league history in rushing with 1,267 yards after playing in just a total of 34 games in his AFL career. Think about that for just one second. Rodney Filer, who just had a huge ceremony for the Iowa Barnstormers for his retirement, finished his illustrious 13-year career with 1,252 yards. Andre Bowden, an 11-year vet and clearly one of the best Ironmen in the history of the league, retired with 1,247 rushing yards. Dan Alexander, considered by many as the best rushing fullback in the history of this league, had 1,188 yards, and he did that in five years. All of them have been passed up by this 27-year old second year fullback out of Tarleton State.
"The sky's the limit for Derrick," said Dolezel at Wednesday's ArenaBowl XXV Media Day. "You can take the ceiling off the dome. He's going to be able to do whatever he wants to do. That's just how talented he is."
Seems like an odd chemistry between a fullback and an offensive coordinator who was just ranked the No. 5 quarterback in the 25-year history of the AFL, doesn't it?
The road for Dolezel and Ross didn't just start in the City of Brotherly Love, though. The two were paired together with the Dallas Vigilantes last season with Ross as a rookie fullback and Dolezel as a rookie head coach. But even before that, Dolezel coached the IFL's San Angelo Stampede Express in 2010, and that's where he discovered Ross, who was a CFL castaway at the time. Since that point, these two have combined to lead their teams to an amazing 36-14 record in 50 regular season games (15-3 with the Soul this season, 11-7 with Dallas last year, and 10-4 with the Stampede Express in 2010).
Now, just three years later, Dolezel is the first to admit that, "[Ross] should absolutely be playing fullback in the NFL. He's that great of a player."
In his one year in the IFL, Ross rushed for 824 yards and 26 TDs. If you prorate that over the course of an 18-game season, that's 1,059 yards. There has never been an AFL rusher even think about getting to a 1,000-yard season, but does Ross think that can reach that seemingly unreachable point? He said, "I really do think I can be a 1,000-yard back in this league."
But in the next breath, Ross was quick to state what the real goal is. "That's not what I'm about, though. I'm about winning games."
Ross runs like a madman, and he has a tremendous ferociousness with which he plays football. He's big, honking 6'0", 253 pounds of sheer intensity. When he gets to the end zone, his lawnmower celebration is one of the most recognizable and outlandish of its kind in the league. You wouldn't figure that a man like that would be left without words. However, I asked at least a dozen players or coaches what it would mean to be able to lift the Foster Trophy on Friday, and there was no response like the one that Ross gave.
"An honor," said the league's top rusher. "Any time you win something in a professional league, it's an honor." He paused and looked at the Foster Trophy, and very solemnly declared, "I have dreams about it."