DETROIT - Orchard Lake-St. Mary's linebacker James Ross was originally scheduled to receive his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey more than two months ago, at a ceremony after a home game, in front of a packed house. But the wait was more than worth it.
Thursday night, Ross finally slipped a No. 12 Army jersey over his broad shoulders, in front of the people who have helped him get there, the congregation of Detroit's True Rock Church.
Following a Thursday night mass, the entire church community stayed to watch the jersey presentation and cheer for Ross's accomplishments.
"That was very special, to have it at my church," Ross said. "The people at my church, they're like my family, and my pastor plays a big role in my life, teaching me the characteristics of being a great man. It was amazing to have it here."
Ross said the jersey presentation was the culmination of four years of hard work. When he entered high school, he set a list of lofty goals for himself, and an invitation to an All-American game was one of them.
Pastor Darryl Redmond was on hand to congratulate the Ross family. And he was surprised to receive a trip to San Antonio, with Ross's parents, to watch Ross compete against the nation's best high school talent.
Redmond has known Ross since he was five years old.
"He's just like a son to me, because I've watched him grow," Redmond said. "They come over to my house for the holidays. He taught me how to play video games. We're so proud of him. It's incredible.
"With the church being behind him, his spiritual background gives him the fortitude to stay grounded and solid. Every challenge, he's met. He's got four years in college, then he's going to do his time in the pros, and he's going to make every place he goes a better place. That says a lot, because he's stepping into some big areas. He's more than just a football player, and he's going to open a lot of doors for people."
And Ross has already started to do just that.
Ross's mother, Shantel, is a teacher at a school near St. Mary's. She says her class is about 95-percent male, and some of them have had troubled pasts.
Every Monday morning, the boys storm into Shantel's room, pleading with her to see Ross's highlight tape from that weekend's game. And Every so often, she budges and pops in a DVD of Ross lighting up the football field.
"The minute they made the connection that that's my son, I got all the love in the world," Shantel said. "In a way, it helps me with discipline.
"I tell them, especially my athletes, 'If you don't pay attention in my math class, you won't have success, because you need to go to college. Look at James.' And they listen, because of what they've seen him accomplish."
Ross is excited to get to San Antonio.
"It's just going to be a fun experience," Ross said. "I played with a bunch of the guys at The Opening, but that was without pads. We'll see what it's like with pads. … I expect it to be a fast-paced game. It's going to be fun. I think I'm very capable of getting in there and making things happen."
Three of the other invitees, Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech's Royce Jenkins-Stone and Terry Richardson and Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison Mario Ojemudia grew up playing football with Ross in Detroit's little league circuit.
And they'll all be joining the Michigan football team in the fall.
"Going in, we thought it was impossible for that to happen, all playing together," Ross said. "We dreamed about it, when we were little, but as it got closer, we thought, 'Yeah, we probably won't go to the same college.' … It's fun to get us all back together. It's the perfect story. You could make a movie out of it."