Justyn Ross closer to full return for Clemson football

Justyn Ross has experienced the highs and lows during his time in the Clemson football program.

The highs included a pair of 100-yard games in the postseason as the Tigers won the 2019 national championship. The lows included season-ending surgery that has kept the junior receiver out of action for more than a year.

But Ross is getting closer to a full-time return. He was allowed to practice late in the 2020 season last year and has been on the field for spring practice.

Ross had a virtual meeting with his doctors last week and has to go to Pittsburgh in June where he hopes to get the go-ahead for full contact for the 2021 season.

“A year ago I didn’t think I would put on pads again,” Ross said Wednesday. “So I’m grateful. I’m taking advantage of every rep I get. … I realize how quick the game could be taken away from me. Like my grandma told me, I put everything in God’s hands and went and did everything the doctors and coaches told me to do. … I will be ready to play any time they tell me.”

Ross led Clemson in receiving yards with 1,000 as a freshman in 2018. He led Clemson with 66 receptions in 2019 and was likely going to to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft before the injury. Ross announced in January he would come back for another year.

Wednesday was the first time Ross talked publicly about the surgery and what the recovery process was like over the past year. The injury occurred last March in spring practice when he ran a slant route and collided with a linebacker.

Ross was treated for a stinger and had X-rays a day later. He was diagnosed with a congenital spine condition and a bulging disk in his spine. He had the condition since birth but it was not diagnosed.

Ross flew to Pittsburgh with his mom in June for the surgery that was performed by Dr. David Okonkwo, a leading neuroscientist.

Ross said he wasn’t able to do anything for about three months following the surgery and has been gradually working his way back. He talked with former Clemson receiver Mike Williams during the process. Williams, who plays with the San Diego Chargers, had a similar type of injury.

Ross also said he leaned on the support of his mother and grandma.

“I didn’t let myself get down because that does nothing for you,” Ross said. “It was hard watching. Was the first time missing a football season.”

Ross said he isn’t worried about any long-term effects from the injury and is eager to get the go-ahead for full contract. Assuming Ross gets the go-ahead, he will have a different role with the Tigers receiving group. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Ross will be moving to the slot receiving spot instead of playing outside.

Swinney thinks Ross would be perfect for the role.

“That’s one of Justyn’s gifts. I mean, he is so gifted. He’s Renfrow-esque when it comes to his lateral ability,” Swinney said, comparing him to former Clemson wideout Hunter Renfrow. “When you’re in there, it’s a quick change of direction. And then you get a big body like that, he’s unique.”

Ross is embracing his new role on the field and off the field as the Tigers’ most experienced receiver. In the past, he had guys like Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers to lean on. Now, it is his turn.

“It feels good to lead the group,” Ross said. “… Everyone from top to bottom is elite. We are going to be great.”

How to watch Clemson Football Spring Game

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Memorial Stadium.

TV: ACC Network

Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The (Columbia) State and (Hilton Head) Island Packet. He previously worked at the Florence Morning News and had covered high school sports in South Carolina since 2002. Lou is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.
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