By Mark Clark
When the two teams – Alabama and Clemson – take the field at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. next Monday night for the National Championship, Phenix City will be represented by a pair of former Central High star football players. Clemson’s Justyn Ross and Alabama’s Markail Benton spent their high school careers trying to help the Red Devils to a state title without success, but will have a chance Monday to help their current teams to a national title.
“It’s exciting to know this is happening. It’s exciting for our football program and our city. It shows the type of talent we have here. I am happy for them to be the representatives of Central High and Phenix City. No matter how much they play, they will represent us well,” Central coach Jamey DuBose said of his former players. “The good thing for me is I am not a fan of any particular team. I pull for my former players. I wish them both the best.”
Ross, a true freshman for the Tigers, worked his way into the starting rotation at wide receiver from the beginning of the season. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in his first college game against Furman. For the season, the former 5-star rated Ross has 40 catches for 847 yards with eight touchdowns. He is first on the team with 21.2 yards per catch, second in total yards receiving and third in total number of catches.
Ross set a new Cotton Bowl receiving record in the first half against Notre Dame. in last Saturday’s college football playoff game with five catches he’s for 137 yards with two touchdowns. He finished the game with six catches for 148 yards with his two touchdowns as the Tigers won 30-3 to advance to the title game.
The former Central star was ranked as the No. 1 football player in Alabama his senior season. He is the first top-ranked Alabama player to sign with Clemson and the first top-ranked Alabama player to not sign with the Crimson Tide since 2005.
Benton is a redshirt freshman for Alabama and has seen action in eight games this season. He has 4 tackles and 10 assists to rank 14th on the team. He made an appearance in Alabama’s playoff game with Oklahoma and made an assist during the 45-34 victory for the Crimson Tide.
Benton was a 4-star player coming out of Central in 2016 and the No. 2 player in the state. He made 129 tackles – 70 unassisted – with 10 tackles for losses and he made four sacks, as a senior. Benton chose Alabama over Clemson and several other schools.
Monday’s National Championship game will start at 8 p.m. ET and will be shown on ESPN – CTV Beam channel 31/211.