The hard, hard dirt, the weed-covered, dusty, pockmarked field at Air Park seems a long way from the 2006 NFL playoffs and the fields of the Big 12 Conference.
To Cory Ross, the difference isn’t so great.
“It’s competition,” the former Husker running back said after helping RHC to a pair of victories Saturday in the flag football competition at the Cornhusker State Games.
And Ross, all 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds of him, still has the moves.
Braden Warner, head of the first team to face Ross' squad, testified that Ross can still shake defenders with the best of them.
“Oh, that’s Cory Ross. Pork Chop. Oh, that explains a lot,” Warner said after RHC beat Something Better on Saturday morning.
Ross, known as “Pork Chop” in his Husker days (2002-05), still has the speed burst, dizzying spins and slashing cuts that made him one of the best Husker backs ever and a two-year kick returner and backup running back with the Baltimore Ravens.
He couldn’t completely elude defenders, though.
Danelle Warner, wife of Braden, was the only female playing in the 13-team tournament.
“I wasn’t scared,” she said. “I was here to help because the guys talked me into it.”
She stopped Ross on more than one occasion and helped her team with a couple of receptions.
Running the ball in flag football has some limitations.
Stiff-arm a defender and you’re penalized for “flag guarding.” Lower the shoulder and head and run somebody over and you face "unnecessary roughness."
“You can’t stiff-arm here and there’s no tackling and a bunch of other rules that kind of make you stop and think,” said Ross, who lives in Lincoln but joined with friends on the Omaha team. “I got penalized for the stiff-arm I’ve used since I was a little kid back in Denver. But I did get to play cornerback, and you know everybody thinks they can play defensive back.”
Ross, who is finishing a final six hours at Nebraska to earn his degree, still holds hopes of returning to the United Football League. He was the offensive MVP for the Sacramento Mountain Lions last year and plans to report to camp for this year’s season at the end of August.
In the meantime, “I’ll stay in shape and try to help these guys win some games.”
He caught a series of short passes from quarterback Frankie Gomez. Ross took one quick out pass, spun away from a defender for Ping Pong, a Lincoln team, cut in front of another defender, juked another and almost scored before Ngoc Mai grabbed his flag.
Ross’ interception was a difference-maker in the victory against the much smaller, but quicker Ping Pong team that used a wide variety of throwbacks, reverses and pitches. His friend, Allen Burrell, who talked Ross into playing, made a game-saving interception as well.
Competition continues Sunday morning.
“I’ll be there,” Ross said.