No matter which team comes out on top in the 2020 College Football Playoff national title game, two players from local high schools will call themselves champions.
Four local alums are set to be in New Orleans on Jan. 13 when the No. 1 LSU Tigers take on the No. 3 Clemson Tigers. Central-Phenix City alums Justyn Ross and Ray Thornton will be on the Clemson side, while Auburn High’s Avery Atkins and Central’s Peter Parrish will be there with LSU.
Additionally, recent Central graduate E.J. Williams will be enrolling at Clemson on Jan. 5, just in time for the Tigers’ title game preparations.
Ross had already established himself as one of Clemson’s top receiving targets before the 2019 season, and that was the case again in Clemson’s 29-23 victory over Ohio State on Saturday. Ross had a team-high six receptions for 47 yards in the victory, which clinched Clemson’s second straight national title game appearance.
Ross enters the title game with 61 receptions for 789 yards and eight touchdowns in his sophomore season. He will look to repeat his performance from last year’s championship showdown, when he made six receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown to help Clemson top Alabama.
Atkins, meanwhile, has been LSU’s kickoff specialist since his true freshman season in 2018. He had nine touchbacks on 10 kickoffs in LSU’s 63-28 victory over Oklahoma on Saturday, and the former Auburn High safety made the tackle on the one kickoff that the Sooners returned.
Atkins is part of an LSU team that is headed to the national championship game for the first time since 2012. After 13 games, Atkins has 105 touchbacks on 124 kickoffs — a touchback rate of 84.7.
Thornton and Parrish were teammates on Central’s 2018 state championship team, and both have used this fall to get comfortable with playing at the collegiate level.
Thornton appeared in only four games for Clemson — thus preserving his ability to redshirt — and has played four defensive snaps and contributed on the Tigers’ special teams unit in those contests. Parrish has yet to appear in a game for LSU but has had the chance to learn what it takes to play quarterback behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
Here is a look at the contributions of other local players thus far this bowl season:
Traveon Samuel, Memphis — Samuel had one reception for eight yards in the Tigers’ 53-39 loss to Penn State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
Will Boler, UAB —Boler had four tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass defended in the Blazers’ 31-17 loss to Appalachian State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Besides the four players in the title game, eight more local players will appear in upcoming bowl games: Auburn High’s Mohamoud Diabate (Florida); Central’s Markail Benton and Dadeville’s Anfernee Jennings (Alabama); LaFayette’s JaTarvious Whitlow (Auburn); Lanett’s Trikweze Bridges (Oregon); Opelika’s Kyle Fourtenbary (Western Kentucky); Opelika’s Boosie Whitlow and Smiths Station’s Amonte Caban (Louisville); and Smiths Station’s Deondrae Williams (Navy).