Keeneth “K.J.” Ross was a football player once at Secaucus High School. He was a running back, wide receiver and defensive back in the Patriots’ program.
However, last year, Ross had to come to a tough decision in his life. He had to decide whether he wanted to continue to pursue a football career or give it up to pursue a life as a track and field performer.
“It was a very tough decision,” Ross said. “I felt like I could have been a good football player. But I had some conversations with my father and he told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, but I should try to be the best in whatever I did. I didn’t know if I had a future in football, but I already knew I had a future in track and field. I had a better shot to be something in track.”
That was music to the ears of Secaucus head track and field coach Bayu Sutrisno.
“He had to put in the time to become better in track, put in the extra work in the weight room and the extra work in training,” Sutrisno said.
At the end of the 2012 outdoor track season, Sutrisno said that he noticed the change in Ross.
“I could see the times drop,” Sutrisno said. “I also noticed that he became a lot more focused. He lives and breathes track and field. It’s all he does. He talks about it. He grasped the team philosophy of the sport and wanted everyone else on the team to do well. I always knew he had the talent. He just had to make the commitment to put the work in.”
Just how dedicated has Ross become?
“I told my Dad that I want to become an Olympian someday,” Ross said. “That’s my goal. I want to do that, so that’s where it all began.”
Before Ross could take on the world in the Olympics, he had to concentrate on taking on the rest of the competition in the Northern Jersey Interscholastic Conference.
That’s what Ross had to concern himself with last week, when the Patriots headed to the New York Armory to compete in the NJIC Championships.
Secaucus has never fared well in any indoor conference championship, be it the old BCSL National or the new NJIC, so Ross had a bit of an uphill battle working against him.
“My goal was to win three events, because I knew that’s what the team needed,” Ross said. “Goals are nice, but it’s much more important for the team to do well. I had to step forward for the program.”
Sutrisno believed that Ross had a chance to be a three-event champion.
“I told him that if he stayed healthy, he had a pretty good shot,” Sutrisno said. “I knew it was going to be asking a lot of K.J., but I thought he could do it.”
Sure enough, Ross won the 55-meter dash, the 400-meter run and ran the anchor leg in the Patriots’ 4x400-meter relay, giving him three gold medals and helping the Patriots to a second place team finish behind perennial champion Hasbrouck Heights.
It was the best finish for a Secaucus indoor track team in a conference meet in the school’s history.
Ross won the 55-meter dash in 6.60 seconds, won the 400-meter dash in 50.90 seconds and ran the final leg in the Patriots’ winning relay that crossed the line in 3:42.00.
Three events, three gold medals, 30 team points collected out of a total of 59. Not a bad day at all for the Secaucus senior.
For his efforts, Ross has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Ross isn’t resting on his laurels.
“It’s hard for me to be content by winning three events,” Ross said. “I always want to be better. It’s nice to have this success, but I always ask what I could have done to get better.”
Sutrisno knows that Ross has other championships in front of him, like perhaps a 200-meter dash title that will come in the upcoming NJSIAA state sectionals.
“He’s won the only two times he’s raced in the 200 [meter dash] this season,” Sutrisno said. “It’s tough to operate the turns at FDU [Fairleigh Dickinson, where Ross won the first 200-meter dash this season]. I told him that there could be a distraction there with all the people. But K.J. just concentrates, especially at FDU.”
Sutrisno likes Ross’ character.
“He’s always been a very humble kid,” Sutrisno said. “Even with the success he’s had, he’s just a quiet kid who doesn’t brag. He’s very gracious and appreciates everything.”
Sutrisno believes that Ross is just scraping the surface of his talent.
“I think he has a shot to do well at the counties and the state sectionals, maybe even get to the Meet of Champions,” Sutrisno said. “He’s finally reaching the potential we all felt he had. If he keeps putting in the work and taking it day by day, he can make the Meet of Champs. He definitely has a shot. I am impressed with what he’s done, but not surprised, because I knew he had it in him.”
Ross knows that he made the right choice in walking away from football.
“I thought it was a good experience for me to play football, because I got an idea of how athletic I could become,” Ross said. “But I definitely see my future in track and field. I have more opportunities.”
Ross is thinking big-time when it comes to his college plans. He has already applied to major track programs like Miami, North Carolina, Tulane and Florida State, as well as Rutgers, Fordham and George Mason.
“It’s the No. 1 goal in my mind,” Ross said. “I’m definitely setting my goals high.”
Ross plans on majoring in marketing in college.
In the spring, Ross plans on adding the jumps – the high jump and the long jump – to his repertoire.
“I can definitely handle the verticality of the high jump and I’m definitely going to try the long jump,” Ross said. “I definitely know this was the right choice. I know that now. It just took me a little while to realize it.”
As for the unique first name, it is definitely KEENETH, not Kenneth.
“I’ve seen it spelled Kenneth a lot,” Ross said. “My father’s name is Keenan and my mother wanted to be like him, but not too much like him.”
That’s why Ross prefers to be called “K.J.”
“It’s a lot easier,” K.J. Ross said.
Chances are a lot of other local track enthusiasts know all about K.J. Ross now as well. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.