De Pere center Ross Rowland uses hard work, dedication to separate himself on the football field
By Greg Bates
Special to Midwest Collegiate Prospects
Ever since sixth grade, Ross Rowland has been trying to perfect his craft by receiving one-on-one training from former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Steuck.
The duo work together twice a week and really hit it hard year-round.
Rowland, who this fall will enter his third season as the starting center for the high-powered De Pere High School (De Pere, Wis.) offense, is constantly trying to become a better all-around player. That includes conducting film breakdown following games.
“This past season before I’d even get there and pull the film up, he’d be like, ‘Hey, man. I’m just going to let you know, I watched this film already twice and I know for a fact that I’ve got to get better at my kick slides going to my right. I had weight outside, I wasn’t punching right,’” Steuck said. “I’d be like, ‘OK, big fella, pump the brakes. Alright, I got it.’”
That interaction with his trainer fits Rowland to a T. He’s hard working, dedicated and always willing to put in the extra effort.
“He is the epitome of keep your mouth shut and go to work kind of attitude,” De Pere offensive line coach Matt Kincade said. “He just does exactly what you tell him to do — he puts his head down. He has one of the best work ethics of any kid that I’ve ever coached. He’s selfless, he does what’s expected and overall he’s improved.
“Obviously, he’s been gifted with size and pretty good feet, but, honestly, his biggest improvement has come six inches between his ears, meaning he really believes in himself. He really believes that he can be the best out there.”
Rowland is being recognized as one of the premier offensive linemen in the state after having a solid junior campaign last fall. Prep Redzone Wisconsin ranked the top football players in the state for the Class of 2023 and Rowland was chosen as the 10th best offensive lineman and 47th best player overall.
Getting identified at the state level is a nice pat on the back for Rowland. That high praise just stokes the fire burning deep inside the 17-year-old.
“It definitely pushes me harder, because I want to be higher up on those rankings and that’s just going to help push me to be even better than what I am right now,” said Rowland, who also wrestles at De Pere.
Rowland is his own biggest critic. If he does something incorrectly on the football field, he’s going to make sure it gets fixed. He strives for perfection in his game.
“I watch film a lot of myself and practicing my technique. I know when I have a bad rep and how I need to fix that and what I need to do to fix it,” Rowland said. “Watching game film, I look at all my plays and I see which ones I messed up on and I kind of make a goal for myself — if I had a bad game where I was too high, my goal would be to play lower the next week. I bring that and I set goals for myself.”
Added Kincade: “He does not take failure well, which is a good thing, and any elite athlete is like that. Ross is the kind of guy that hates losing more than he likes winning.”
Center of Attention
Rowland started playing competitive football as a third grader and latched onto center right away.
He enjoys being the captain of the offensive line, being responsible for making calls to his fellow big men on the line, ensuring a quality snap and laying out a good block.
Rowland is accustomed to setting the offense from a pass protection standpoint and helping his teammates identify where the linebackers set up. Kincade said Rowland has a good presence with the other linemen.
“I would call him a leader by more of example than vocal,” Kincade said. “He will get vocal when he needs to get vocal, but typically he is a lead-by-example type of guy. He’s a great teammate. He likes to joke around a little bit and keep things pretty light. When it’s time to go to work, he leads by example. He’s not going to tell someone to do something that he’s not willing to do or isn’t doing himself.”
Steuck said one of the reasons Rowland has been so successful on the football field relates to how he learns.
“I’ve done coaching at the private training level and one thing that I’ve seen is some kids will hear what you’re saying but won’t put in or they don’t know how to put in the reps and the time to make what you said become a reality, and he does a really good job of that,” said Steuck, who was a center at West De Pere High School and Northern Michigan before his NFL dream with the Green Bay Packers was cut short by injury in 2016. “When you tell him something, you can see him process it and try to figure it out and then he’ll try and implement that as soon as possible.”
What sets Rowland apart and makes him one of the best centers in the state?
“First of all, his build,” Steuck said. “He doesn’t have the tackle build, he’s not a 6-5, long, lanky. He’s a solid 6-3, short, stocky individual. He’s a smart kid, too. He has no problem embracing the fact that center’s a very difficult position on the offensive line, arguably thee most difficult. Some of these times you’re going to be blocking the heaviest, strongest D-lineman with one hand in between your legs. He fully embraced that when he was younger and stepped up to the challenge to do what has to be done to dominate at that position and now he’s got the mentality for it, the size for it, the build for it and the technique for it, so he’s doing everything right.”
Coach Kincade points out that Rowland’s football IQ is off the charts.
“He really understands what the defense is trying to do, really understands what we’re trying to do offensively,” Kincade said. “He gets the right calls made from a pass protection standpoint and his ability to stay calm under pressure, he doesn’t make mistakes in critical moments. You don’t see things like bad snaps or offsides or holding penalties. He allows himself to be in the right position to make plays. Everything we do starts at that center spot on the offensive line, so he gets the team, the offensive line rolling.”
Rowland isn’t just a smart player on the field, it carries over to the classroom. He has a cumulative GPA hovering around 3.5 with an ACT score of 25.
Critical Summer Ahead
Rowland has received interest primarily from Division I FBS, Division I FCS and Division II schools.
He’s taken junior day visits to Northern Illinois, Augustana, Northern State, Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota State Moorhead. Rowland has received an offer from Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D.
“I’m definitely trying to go D-I right now, that’s been my goal ever since I was a little kid and started playing football,” Rowland said.
According to Steuck, this summer is going to be very critical for Rowland with recruiting. He’s already lined up to compete in eight prospect camps at Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota State Mankato, Augustana and Northern State.
Rowland — Twitter handle @Ross_Rowland 6 — is looking forward to proving to coaches and scouts he can play at an elite level.
“I’m hoping to show them that I can compete and I’m just as good as all the other guys there,” said Rowland, who has game film that can be watched at www.hudl.com/profile/15569322/ross-rowland.
With his 6-foot-3, 295-pound frame, Rowland is locked into that center position. That’s where colleges will zoom in their attention when recruiting starts ramping up.
Steuck believes Rowland has the drive, work ethic and talent to be a Division I college player.
“I think interior-wise, I see him going as far as he wants to go, truly,” Steuck said. “I’ve trained Ross and I’m also training Thomas Paasch over at (Green Bay) Southwest, who is now the second top recruit in the state of Wisconsin. I trained Miles Salinas from De Pere last year.
“This kid can go wherever he wants to go as long as he understands that he plays inside. Because of his height, he’s a center and that’s it. But the kid is strong, he’s got good technique and he’s got some nasty in him. When you pull up his film, you can see that. He’s out there driving people, finishing them into the ground.”
Rowland’s height doesn’t hamper him at center, it just restricts him from playing the other positions on the offensive line. But his coaches don’t see that as an issue.
“The stats that Ross has, you can’t measure those stats — meaning, the heart, the guts, the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Kincade said. “Somebody’s going to take a chance on Ross Rowland and when they give him a helmet, they’re not going to want it back. I can promise you that.”