Article written by Sam King
Life has never been easy for Tyler Ross, a 6-foot, 185-pound solid block of a high school senior, complete with a tattoo that consumes much of his left bicep.
Kids like Ross often become a statistic rather than be praised for their statistics.
And yet, here he stands, arms crossed on the baseline after basketball practice lauded as one of Delphi Community High School’s most high character students.
The Oracles’ all-state tight end during football season and dynamic post presence this basketball season has quite the backstory and one heck of a tale of perseverance.
“The two games have helped him transition his life around,” said Brent Hawn, a senior guard who leads Delphi’s basketball team in scoring.
It was just over a year ago that Ross came to his proverbial fork in the road. When he got there, he started his stroll down the wrong path, mixed in with wrong crowd and dismissed from the football team for a violation of team rules — a trail that more likely led to jail than the college classroom he’ll be in this fall.
“I smoked weed a little bit. It went downhill from there,” Ross admits. “I drank and went to parties.”
What he didn’t do was focus on school or show up consistently to football practice, leaving Oracles coach Josh Strasser with no other option but to remove Ross from the team going into the 2013 sectional semifinal. Ross didn’t play basketball that winter.
These are the stories told far too often about kids who pass through foster homes, whose father was arrested and lost his job and whose mother gave up her five children because she couldn’t take care of them.
This story is not like the others. Ross hopes it’s inspirational for people who seem to be heading down the wrong avenue.
Ross came from what he perceives to be the “ghetto of Indianapolis.” His parents had no means to take care of him or his four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. His father was arrested for drinking and driving. He lost his job. The mother couldn’t take care of the family and thus the Ross children were shuffled in and out of foster care.
The family was brought back together when their grandmother adopted them.
When Ross relocated to Delphi, he found himself an outcast among his new environment.
“I was kind of a hoodlum,” Ross said. “I dressed in clothes three times too big. Everyone else was wearing a nice shirt, tucked in. It took me a minute to get used to that.”
You know what makes kids feel included? Sports.
It was as an athlete that Ross developed friendships with peers he likely never would’ve hung out with otherwise. When he strayed away as a high school junior, Strasser knew he needed to reel Ross back in.
“I’ve learned from coaching under (former West Lafayette football coach) Marshall (Overley) and (former Delphi coach) Vince (Burpo), you give every student-athlete every opportunity possible,” Strasser said. “If you feel there is even an ounce of it that you think can offer them something, you give it to them.”
Ross rewarded that good faith with a transformation that would eventually make him one of the football team’s captains.
His work ethic? Tireless. His attendance? Perfect. His leadership? Flawless.
“In past years, he would blow up every time he did something wrong,” said Weston Windell, Delphi’s sophomore quarterback who combined with Ross for 776 yards and eight touchdowns. “This year, he looks at the bright side of everything and is this amazing guy.”
Ross’ football talents paved a way for his future. Next year, he will attend St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where he will be a part of the Pumas football program.
“There’s a lot of adversity he’s gone through and battled and he’s still doing that. He doesn’t really have a home. He stays with friends,” Delphi basketball coach Adam Ballard said. “For a kid his age to have to go through that not to be just an athlete, but he’s an A-B student with more A’s than B’s, it’s pretty amazing really.”
Ballard is in his first season as Oracles coach, coming from Vincennes Rivet to succeed Michael Lewis.
One of his first priorities was to get Ross on the basketball roster.
With averages of 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Ross has become a major reason Delphi is 7-4. In a 74-72 win over Rossville on Dec. 5, Ross made 10 of 11 shots, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds while matched up against one of the area’s top talents in Hornets 6-foot-4 senior Clayton Howard.
“Any time we are going over a scouting report and we talk about a big guy who can play, you look at Tyler and Tyler will go, “I got him” like it is no big deal,” Ballard said. “He thinks he is the toughest guy in the room no matter what room he is in and I have a hard time arguing with him.”