Former Central-Phenix City wide receiver Justyn Ross will miss the 2020 season at Clemson due to a neck and spine issue, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced Monday.
Swinney explained that Ross, a rising junior for the Tigers, suffered a stinger injury in March that warranted an X-ray. Following the X-ray, it was discovered that Ross has a congenital fusion condition that will require surgery, which Swinney said Ross will undergo Friday.
“What I can say — and the frustrating thing — is Justyn is great. He can run, jump, do back flips, dunk a basketball. He’s had no issues, but because of the X-ray it showed up. The longer he went in his football career, it would have showed up eventually. But because of the X-ray, it showed up now,” Swinney said per Clemson247. He has a little bit of a bulging disk as well, and that’s an issue. There have been many people who play with a surgical fusion, but we don’t know anyone that has played with a surgical and congenital. It created some questions for our medical people. We have spent a lot of time and doctors have done a wonderful job trying to get the best information. One of the top neurosurgeons in the country, who is one of the main NFL guys, has stepped up and really been great in the process with Justyn. He’ll fly up there on Thursday and have surgery Friday, and we will go from there.
“He’ll have a decision to make next January, whether to enter the 2020 NFL Combine or return to school. We’re staying positive and hopeful, but there is no guarantee he can play football again. But Justyn is doing great. He’s in great spirits, and so is his mom (Charay Franklin). They’ve been great.”
The development is an unfortunate turn of events for Ross, who had missed a portion of Clemson’s spring practice due to the aforementioned stinger injury.
Ross further established himself as one of Clemson’s top receiving targets in 2019, as he reeled in a team-high 66 catches for 865 yards and eight touchdowns to help pace a Tigers team that averaged just under 44 points per game and played in the program’s fourth national championship game in the last five years.
Ross’ sophomore performance followed a debut season in 2019 that ended with the ultimate bang.
After working his way into the lineup as the year went along, Ross became a star as the Tigers pummeled Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinals then decimated No. 1 Alabama in the title game. His performance against the Crimson Tide — one of the in-state schools he passed on when he committed to Clemson in February 2018 — was otherworldly, as he reeled in six catches for 153 yards and one touchdown to help hand Alabama a 44-16 defeat.
Ross ended his freshman season with 46 catches for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.
Ross came to Clemson as a four-star receiver and the state of Alabama’s top recruit thanks to an incredible run at Central. He wasted little time in becoming a star for the Red Devils, and he ended his time in high school by putting together a season in which he had 37 receptions for 730 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Ross’ play for Central in 2017 helped the Red Devils average 47.1 points per game and reach the Class 7A state semifinals.
“I think once he really gets into a football mindset where it’s 365 days out of the year with proper training, proper nutrition, proper lifting, proper speed training and proper development, I think you’re fixing to see a guy that’s unbelievable,” then-Central head coach Jamey DuBose said prior to Ross’ senior year. “I think that you’re going to have somebody that has something you watch on your TV on Sundays.”
Ross’ recruitment was one of the biggest stories in the state that winter as he narrowed his choices down to Alabama, Auburn and Clemson. Ultimately, he chose the out-of-state Tigers, saying he made his final decision the night before National Signing Day.
Ross pointed to their ability to consistently churn out top-tier receiver talent to the NFL as one of the deciding factors.
“I was thinking about the 30-year-old Justyn. This decision right here could change my life for the better or for the worst,” Ross said upon signing. “(Developing and playing professionally) is the main goal right there. I feel like I have a good chance to do that there.”
Ross left a mark at Central that those around the program could easily still identify.
Former Central quarterback Tucker Melton — who has now signed to play at Bowling Green — credited Ross for being levelheaded all the time despite the obvious talent he possessed. Melton said everyone who knew Ross in Phenix City knew he was destined for greatness, and he added that Ross set the standard for being a receiver at Central for years to come.
Ross’ future remains unclear at this point, but Melton is one of countless people who know Ross well and refuse to count him out.
“(I think he’ll bounce back) better than ever. I’ve already talked to him today, and he’s so positive right now,” Melton said. “He works so hard. This will honestly be nothing to him.”