In Clemson’s first scrimmage of fall camp, which took place Saturday morning at Death Valley, freshman Justyn Ross showed why he was a five-star recruit and considered one of the top wide receivers in the nation coming out of high school.
“His first catch was a one-handed, go up and just pluck it out of the air,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Then he came right back and one-upped himself with another one.
“So, he was spectacular today. It’s one thing to be in position, but to finish it — he really had a great day finishing the plays.”
Despite playing with a banged up shoulder, Ross wasted no time wowing the coaches. On his first play of the scrimmage, the Phenix City, Ala., native came down with one of the best catches that Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has witnessed.
“Justyn Ross had several ‘wow’ moments,” Scott said. “He’s had a bruised right shoulder… His first play he gets in there, and the quarterback throws it a little bit high, and he goes up with his right hand and makes one of the most incredible catches that I’ve seen. … Then he came back and made two big-time catches in the end zone. That was very impressive for his first time in Death Valley.”
Ross signed with Clemson over Alabama in February, becoming the first ever top-ranked prospect from the state of Alabama to sign with Clemson. Regarded as the No. 2 receiver in the 2018 recruiting class, Ross tallied 37 receptions for 730 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior at Central High School.
Swinney admittedly didn’t know quite what to expect with Ross entering fall camp, as Clemson’s head man had several questions about how the true freshman would adjust to college ball. However, Swinney has been very happy with what he’s seen over the first week of camp.
“Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “What kind of effort guy is he going to be? How is he going to absorb all the installation? Where is he technically and fundamentally? How is going to handle press coverage? Will he instinctively be able to play with his hands? How is he going to pick up and learn how to run the routes against Trayvon Mullen?
“You don’t ever know, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am with him.”
Swinney said he sees a combination of former Clemson greats Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Williams in Ross, who stands at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds.
“Physically, he comes in at a different place than most guys,” Swinney said. “He’s very confident, he’s quiet — a lot like Sammy in that regard. He doesn’t say a whole lot, just about his business kind of guy. … He’s just got a lot of natural instincts, and he’s a great ball finisher. He’s a little bit like Nuk in that he is relentless to get the ball, and that’s just a mentality.
“And then he’s like Mike in that he’s just so freaking big. He’ll be 225 pounds. Mike was about 220, 225 when he left here, and that’s where he’s headed. But he’s in a really good place right now as a guy walking in from high school at 207 pounds, and he can run, and he’s picking it up.”
What Swinney has been most pleased with, though, is Ross’s coachability.
“He doesn’t say nothing. He just works,” Swinney said. “He’s wide open with his effort, and he loves to be coached. Sometimes guys don’t want to be coached, they’ve got all the answers. He loves to be coached, and when you teach him something or you show him something, then he will apply it.”
Right now, Ross is competing solely at the boundary (9-man) receiver position with sophomore Tee Higgins and junior Diondre Overton. However, Swinney believes he’ll be able to line up at any of the receiver positions before it’s all said and done.
“We’re not asking a lot out of him right now. He’s learning one spot,” Swinney said. “We’re just kind of saying hey, let’s just start right here, and then go. But I think before his career’s over, he’ll be a guy like Mike that you can put anywhere — you can put him in the field, you can put him in the slot, you can put him in the boundary, and he’ll be able to function. He’s not there right now, but just really pleased with his effort and his coachability.”