When Dabo Swinney thinks about Justyn Ross and his journey over the past 19 months, Swinney can’t help but smile.
Clemson’s head coach spoke about his star wide receiver on the Packer and Durham show on Wednesday, reflecting on Ross’s recovery from spinal surgery last offseason that forced him to miss all of the 2020 season.
Prior to the start of fall camp earlier this month, Ross was officially cleared to play in the 2021 season and then finally made his camp debut on Aug. 13 after COVID-19 protocols kept him out of the Tigers’ first six practices.
“All you can do is smile,” Swinney said to Mark Packer and Wes Durham, regarding Ross’s long road to recovery. “But he’s really full of joy. He’s excited about going and doing what he loves to do, and he’s special. There’s no doubt about it. Again, we’ve got a, I think, a great, great room at receiver. But he’s definitely the alpha.”
Swinney admitted he didn’t think Ross would ever play football again when he was initially diagnosed with a congenital fusion condition in his neck and spine which required surgery in June of 2020.
“I’m thankful for amazing doctors, because honestly, I didn’t think he’d ever play football again at the very beginning of this,” Swinney said. “And to see where he is now, it’s just incredible. It really is. And to see him out there scrimmaging and being tackled and so forth, it’s just a blessing.”
Ross enters 2021 having recorded 112 receptions for 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns over 29 career games (14 starts) from 2018-19.
The Phenix City, Ala., native garnered freshman All-America honors in 2018, when he recorded 46 receptions for a team-high 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns over 15 games. In 2019, he was an honorable mention All-ACC selection after recording 865 yards and eight touchdowns on a team-high 66 receptions over 14 games (all starts).
Ross made his presence felt on the game’s biggest stages as a freshman, catching six passes 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.
“J-Ross, man, he’s special. As a player, he’s so gifted,” Swinney said. “But then what he’s dealt with over this past 19 months, and how he has grinded and handled the storm and kept the faith and just got through some tough days, I’m just so proud of him and I’m thankful.”