There was a time that Ezekiel Rose thought he would be catching passes from quarterbacks, not trying to sack them. But things can change on the football field and they certainly did for Rose.
A wide receiver at Clarksdale High School in Mississippi, Rose was good enough at that spot that he receiving looks from junior colleges on that side of the ball. But it wasn’t until his defensive line coach suggested to him that he could have a future on the defensive front that he ever considered it.
So he made the move and spent more time there his senior season.
“I saw some taller, skinner guys that could really run better routes and I said you know what I’m going to let them have it. I’m going to be the one to hit them when they come my way,” he said.
Sure, Rose had size and athleticism going for him but when it came to learning how to play the position he still had a lot to learn when he arrived at East Mississippi C.C. That’s where his position coach, Davern Williams, a former NFL player himself started to mold Rose.
“Playing with my hands was something I had to learn how to do. He kept telling me ‘you’re not a wide receiver anymore put your hands in the dirt’,” Rose said.
After an up and down first year, that had more downs than ups, Rose started to bloom along the defensive line around the mid-way point of his sophomore season at East Mississippi. That’s when college programs started to take notice and he picked up offers from several.
West Virginia didn’t enter the picture until relatively late in the process, first expressing interest in November and then hosting him on an official visit the following month just days ahead of the opening to the junior college signing period. It was on that trip that the Mountaineers extended him a scholarship offer and by the end of the visit, Rose had seen enough.
While he had already been impressed by the fact that the Mountaineers were his biggest offer, once he was able to get on campus and spend time around the coaches, players and fan base it was over.
“I enjoyed what I saw. The fan base was awesome, I loved it,” he said. “I saw West Virginia everything.”
Rose would sign his letter of intent with the Mountaineers a few weeks later and leave Mississippi, the only home he had ever really known, for a new journey in Morgantown.
While he wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on campus, but Rose has bloomed under the tutelage of defensive line coach Bruce Tall. The veteran assistant has done an excellent job breaking down the concepts for Rose in laymen’s terms so he can apply them on the field at four-technique.
In Rose, Tall was instantly impressed with his motor and relentless pursuit.
“It’s exciting,” Tall said.
And now, as his confidence grows and ability, his role follows suit. Rose is coming off his most snaps up front during his first seven games and has gone from a player in the rotation to one that is spelling both of the defensive ends at times. He currently is tied for the lead in team sacks with 2.5 and is coming off the most snaps in his career against Baylor.
“It was more than I’m used to,” he said.
That effort was noticeable at the end as he was getting after the Bears quarterback.
Rose is still processing what it takes to become a great player at this level but understands now that technique, coupled with his speed, is the way to accomplish it. And those days at wide receiver are now long behind him as there is no better feeling than getting to the quarterback now.
“I run very well and give good effort on plays. I run to the ball a lot. I really don’t use my hands as well as I should and let my eyes get the best of me at times,” he said.
“But it’s better than I expected,” he added.