By Mark Clark
With the largest crowd ever to attend the signing of a high school player from Central High to a college letter-of-intent, everyone was sitting on pins and needles. Justyn Ross – the state’s top prospect – sat wired up and ready for the camera lights to go on last Wednesday at his school’s football facility. His decision would be announced to the college football world on ESPN2 at 1:15 ET. His mother, Charay Franklin, and grandmother, Annetta Franklin, sat at his side.
Before him sat three hats representing the schools he had determined to be his top candidates to acquire his services for the next three to four years – ones with logos of Alabama, Auburn and Clemson were at the ready. When the lights came on, Ross began his brief remarks and then reached for the hat of the school he selected – Clemson University. Ross became only the second top prospect from Alabama in history to select a school outside of the state. The first player to do so was Hueytown’s Jameis Winston when he chose Florida State University in 2012.
“It wasn’t an easy choice to make. In a state with two powerhouse schools, it’s hard to look anywhere else. I finally made up my mind late last night,” Ross said following his decision to become a Clemson Tiger.
Ross was a three-year starter for the Red Devils and rated a five or four star prospect depending on which recruiting service you read. During his senior season, Central was 11-1 and made it to the semifinals of Class 7A. The Red Devils made it to the semifinals in each of Ross’s three years as a starter.
The senior wide receiver caught 37 passes for 730 yards and 13 touchdowns, including two one-handed catches for TDs against R.E. Lee of which one wound up gaining national attention on Monday Night Football. While the catch did bring a bit more notoriety to the star athlete and a few more college offers, his list had already been pared to a Top 3 by then. He stuck with his favorites.
“When I went to visit each school, they all had something special to offer. It came down to how comfortable I felt. I wanted to go somewhere that gave me the feeling of family. I wanted to go to a place where I would have a close relationship with my head coach. Clemson gave me those things,” Ross said.
Ross said he felt close to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney from the beginning of the recruiting process which began long before his senior season. He said “being around him (Swinney) is a blessing” itself.
“He really cares about his players and their families. That was a big reason for my picking them,” Ross said.
What else played a part of the decision making process? Well, Ross pointed to his future.
“I was thinking about the thirty-year-old Justyn Ross and where he would be. This could be a life-changing decision. I wanted to give myself and my family the best possible chance of a great future,” he said.
Ross had some advice to future athletes who will face the situation he faced on National Signing Day.
“Just enjoy the process. It does get old at times, but enjoy it,” Ross said.
Now, what is next for the 6-4, 201 pound receiver?
“It is a big relief that it is over. I want to take some time to just chill out, focus on finishing out my senior year and trying to win a basketball title. After that, I will focus on getting ready to play for Clemson for the next three or four years,” Ross said.
His high school coach Jamey DuBose said he expects Ross to become a bigger star with Clemson and possible on into the future with the NFL.
“I really feel he has a great future ahead of him in college. He has the tools to become a great receiver, one that we will be seeing on Sundays in the future,” DuBose said.