Moments before Clemson was set to open the 2016 season at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, an Auburn reporter walked up to then Tigers’ wide receiver Mike Williams and began asking him questions.
At the time, Williams was in the middle of warmups.
“He asked him questions about ‘How are you feeling mentally right now about your neck?’” recalled Tyler Grisham, who was an offensive analyst on Clemson’s staff at the time.
The incident made Grisham mad. The Auburn game was Williams’ first game back since suffering a serious neck injury the year before when he ran into the goal post in the Wofford game and fractured his neck.
“Afterwards, I ended up speaking with this reporter and saying that was not appropriate,” Grisham said. “That was rude. He does not need to have those thoughts in his mind.”
But Grisham soon found out, the incident did not bother Williams at all. In fact, it might have helped. The Clemson receiver dominated Auburn that evening on the plains, as he caught nine passes for 174 yards in Clemson’s 19-13 victory.
“You turn around and you watch his game against Auburn, he played so well,” Clemson’s wide receivers coach said. “He had a lot of conversion throws down the field. Back-shoulder throws from (Deshaun Watson). So, he played well.
“So, even fielding a question like that, clearly he had done the work and he prepared his mind to be successful. Because, for me, I am sitting here thinking, ‘Oh Gosh! Having to answer a question like that.’ But man, he put the work in during the off-season to say, ‘You know what? I have done all I can. If something happens, I can at least have the satisfaction knowing I have done all I can do.’”
Williams went on to have an All-ACC season for the Tigers on their run to the national championship, catching a team-best 98 passes for a team-high 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was later picked by the Los Angeles Chargers with the No. 7 overall selection in the first-round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Grisham and the Tigers are hopeful, when he is cleared to play, Justyn Ross will have a similar kind of season this coming year. Ross missed all of last season due to a congenital spinal issue which required surgery in June of 2020. The health issue jeopardized the future playing career of the 2019 All-ACC wide receiver.
Ross was eventually cleared last season to participate in non-contact drills which carried over to the spring. He now is awaiting the all-go from Clemson on full contact. When he does come back, Grisham is hopeful Ross will come back and have the same kind of success Williams did in 2016.
“He has that example and, hopefully, we have a similar result this year with Ross,” Grisham said.
Maybe a Georgia reporter will approach Ross in a similar fashion the way the Auburn reporter did Williams just moments before the game. And maybe Ross will respond by producing similar numbers.