North-South game a fun experience for Gross

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2004

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Alphonso Gross admitted he had some disappointment when he was not named to the Alabama All-Star team for its annual clash against the Mississippi All-Stars.
That disappointment did not last long, especially once Gross was named to the South's All-Star roster for its inner state battle against the North.
Gross had minimal work at running back in the South's 17-7 loss Friday, as he had only four attempts for six yards. However, he did turn in an electrifying moment that W.S. Neal fans grew accustomed to seeing him do the last four years when he returned a kickoff back 48 yards.
"I thought I was gone, but the official said I stepped out of bounds," Gross, who had a second return for 10 yards, said. "I thought I had an opportunity for a good return on the other kickoff. I had a pretty good hole in front of me, but I slipped."
The game was originally slated to be played at Montgomery, but was shifted to Troy.
"They were in the process of installing synthethic grass at the Montgomery stadium so they had to move the game. Ironically, the Troy stadium also had the synthetic grass surface. It was a really quick field and something I had to get used to. I originally had some equipment problems because my spikes were too long for that kind of surface. Perhaps the surface is why I slipped on that one return," Gross said.
The South team had four days of practice to prepare for the game.
"We practiced twice a day for four days last week. We'd usually go from about 8:30 to 11:30 in the mornings and about 7:30 to 9:30 in the evenings," Gross said.
Gross indicated one adjustment he had to make for the game was learning a new set of blockers in front of him.
"I got used to running behind the same unit at W.S. Neal so I developed a pretty good idea of where they would be," Gross said. "I had a whole new set of blockers in front of me for the all-star game. It's tough to get a feel for them in such a short time of practice. Our coach pretty much told the running backs to find a hole and run."
Of course, the 5-9, 185-pound Gross will have another new set of teammates to learn when he reports to training camp at the University of West Virginia on August 8.
"West Virginia has sent me an individual workout plan to follow this summer. They've given me a lot of weightroom work and the running drills are a lot different than what I had in high school. Probably the biggest difference is I'm running a lot on hills. They've been having me run about a mile worth of sprints. I'll run some 40-yard sprints and a couple of half miles," Gross said.
Based on numbers, Gross' performance in the weightroom has already seen some dramatic improvements.
"A year ago at this time I was lifting about 375 pounds on the bench. This year I'm at 405. A year ago I was at 445 pounds on the squat. This year I'm at 470," Gross said. "I guess I haven't improved any on the power clean. I'm at 250 pounds this year, which is where I was at a year ago."
It is not uncommon for college football players to redshirt as freshmen, but Gross has heard no mention of that from the West Virginia coaching staff at this time.
"Right now I believe I'm about third on the running back depth chart so I'm hoping I will get to play some. I think they're probably going to use me some on special teams with kickoff andpunt returns this season," Gross said.
Gross admits he will soon have some of the biggest culture shocks iog his life.
"Going to West Virginia (as a location) itself will be some adjustments. It will quite a bit cooler and it's higher elevation so the air will be a little thinner. The players have told me that part of it takes some time to get used to," Gross said. "As far as the football end, I'll be going up against players that are bigger, quicker and stronger than what I'm used to although I played against some pretty big players on the North team during that all-star game."
Gross, who is leaning towards majoring in either athletic coaching or psychology, has spent part of this summer working as a camp counselor at the Brewton YMCA.
"That has been a lot of fun. We've tried to play some games with the kids and give them some instruction. That has helped break up the monotony of all the training," Gross said.