Provo • On the second day of preseason camp, BYU backup quarterback Ammon Olsen lofted a 40-yard spiral downfield, where junior receiver Ross Apo made a spectacular diving catch for a touchdown.
Every offensive player on the practice field that day sprinted to the end zone to congratulate Apo, and an over-the-top celebration ensued. The carrying-on reached almost comical proportions, considering how meaningless the play was in the grand scheme of things.
Ross Apo’s career stats
Year Class Receptions Yards Long TDs
2011 Freshman 34 453 42 9
2012 Sophomore 31 311 53 1
Note » Apo joined the program in 2010, but suffered an open dislocation of his left index finger during the second week of the season and took a medical redshirt year.
But that reaction from Apo’s teammates was as meaningful as any this month, and as telling a moment as there has been through more than two weeks of preparations for the 2013 season. It was a sign that teammates have Apo’s back and he still has their respect, after a tumultuous couple of years in which the highly recruited receiver out of Texas hasn’t lived up to expectations.
To say Apo has been a bust isn’t totally accurate. He has caught 10 touchdown passes in two seasons. But even the 6-foot-3, 207-pound speedster who seemingly has all the tools to post Cody Hoffman-like numbers acknowledges his career hasn’t gone as he would have liked.
"Ross has been through a lot," said receiver J.D. Falslev. "He’s had ups and downs. At the same time, Ross is a guy we count on, a guy we need to make plays. He has done a lot better job of taking the constructive criticism from the coaches and using that.
"Does [the celebration] have a little more meaning because of Ross’ background? Maybe a little bit," Falslev continued. "Now he knows we have his back."
By all accounts, Apo is a new man this season, perhaps having bottomed out during spring practice when walk-on Skyler Ridley was listed as a first-string receiver on the depth chart after the final scrimmage. The former prep superstar, who originally committed to Texas but was persuaded by then prep phenom Jake Heaps and others to give BYU a try, said the demotion was a wake-up call.
Teammates and receivers coach Guy Holliday say Apo went to work in the offseason, transforming his body and rededicating himself to his craft. He also got married, to former BYU soccer star Jessica Ringwood, which further caused him to re-examine his priorities and goals.
"I feel way different, way stronger, and a lot faster," Apo said last week. "Last year, by the time the season started, I couldn’t even bench 135 pounds. I am way stronger and way faster and more confident now. I did 225 [pounds] 12 times, and I think I stopped at 280 once."
His attitude has changed as well, after he caught just 31 passes for 311 yards and a single touchdown in 2012. In fairness, Apo’s career has been slowed by nagging injuries, including an open dislocation of his left index finger that caused him to miss (and eventually redshirt) his first year (2010) and a shoulder injury that limited his playing time in 2012.
"Yeah, I definitely have something to prove this year," he said. "Honestly, I was disappointed in myself last year. And this year I just want to prove to myself that I am a good player. I just want to go out there and make plays for my team."
Holliday, who has replaced Ben Cahoon, said he didn’t look at a lot of game film from last year because he didn’t want his judgement clouded. He said Apo has had nothing but a positive, redemptive attitude since he first met him last winter. Holliday said Apo just needs to play and gain confidence this fall, which will happen because four to six receivers will see a lot of action.
"For a receiver, there is not anything magical to it," Holliday said. "You have got to go out and make plays and build confidence and become a technician. And he is working on that. He will be fine."
For now, Apo is saying all the right things, and continuing to smile when he repeatedly gets asked about regaining his starting spot.
"It is up to the coaches," he said. "Whether or not I start, or if Skyler starts, we are all going to play. Really, it doesn’t matter who starts. Everybody is going to play, and I’m really looking forward to that."
And turning his career around, one redemptive catch at a time.
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