Clemson will be without its top returning wide receiver this coming season.
Head coach Dabo Swinney announced during an audio conference with the media Monday that Justyn Ross will have surgery on Friday and will not play during the upcoming 2020 season.
After undergoing an X-ray this spring that looked at his back and spine following an injury he suffered in spring practice in March, Ross learned he has a congenital fusion, which is something he was born with. Ross experienced stinger-like symptoms and numbness after catching a pass and being hit during a practice. He went down, was slow to get up and ended up missing the final part of spring practice.
“He has a little bit of a bulging disk as well, and that is an issue,” Swinney said. “There’s been many people play football with a surgical fusion. That happens a lot of times, but we don’t know of one that’s had a surgical and a congenital. So, it really created some questions for our medical people because the number one thing is that he’s safe to be able to play football. So, we spent a lot of time, our doctors have done a wonderful job in trying to get the best information and the best path forward. … But the biggest thing is Justyn will be out this year, will not be able to play this fall.”
Swinney said he initially wasn’t too concerned about Ross because stingers are not uncommon in the game of football, and Ross showed no signs of being seriously hurt.
“He was fine,” Swinney said. “He was fine on the sideline, and to be honest with you, I didn’t think much about it. I saw him that night at dinner. He was great. …
“The crazy thing and the frustrating thing for Justyn is Justyn is great – he can run, jump, do backflips, dunk a basketball. He looks like he’s always looked, and obviously he’s never had any issues with this because he was born with it. He’s had it his whole life and nobody even knew about it, and eventually the further he went in his football career, it probably would have shown up. But nobody at this point knew that he had that, and he’s had no issues.”
Swinney said Dr. David Okonkwo, who is a member of the medical staff for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has stepped up in the process with Ross. Ross has met with Okonkwo once and will fly there Thursday to meet with him again before undergoing surgery Friday.
Okonkwo, according to Swinney, is positive and thinks there is a good path for Ross to play football again.
“There’s no guarantees with anything. Certainly very hopeful that this surgery will go well and will take him out of harm’s way as far as risk of paralysis or anything like that, and then hopefully by January, he’s doing great and he’s got a decision to make. Does he try to go take his shot at the combine and perform well there and have a chance to keep playing at the next level, or does he want to come back and play at Clemson another year and go from there.”
This is a big blow for Clemson’s offense, and the Tigers’ national championship aspirations, as Ross was expected to step into the role as the team’s No. 1 receiver this season following the departure of Tee Higgins to the NFL.
In his first two years at Clemson, Ross recorded 112 passes for 1,865 yards with 17 touchdowns in 929 snaps over 29 career games (14 starts). The Phenix City, Ala., native posted a dazzling true freshman season in 2018 in which he caught 46 passes for a team-leading 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns in 15 games, including six receptions for 148 yards with two touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and six passes for 153 yards with one touchdown in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
As a sophomore in 2019, Ross was an honorable mention All-ACC selection after recording 865 yards and eight touchdowns on a team-high 66 receptions in 586 snaps over 14 games (all starts).
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