After a spectacular postseason following his Freshman season at Clemson, Justyn Ross was the talk of college football – the top receiver prospect in the country. There was even talk the Phenix City youngster and former Central High athlete could possibly be the No. 2 selection in the National Football League Draft behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The future was extremely bright for Ross.
As a sophomore, Ross caught 66 passes for 865 yards with eight touchdowns for the Tigers. It was a drop off in yardage of 135 yards, but nothing to worry about. With wide receiver Tee Higgins selected in the second round of the NFL Draft, Ross was expected to take on a more significant role for Clemson as a junior.
Now, Ross may not be able to showcase his talent in the upcoming season. During spring training, Ross was hit on a play across the middle that injured his shoulder. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney described the injury as Ross having “some stinger symptoms.” Apparently, the injury is more serious than those remarks would lead you to believe.
A stinger is an injury that occurs when nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after an impact. This type of injury is common in contact or collision sports and is named for the stinging pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. It can feel like an electrical shock that travels down the arm. Most stingers are temporary and symptoms quickly go away.
However, more serious stinger injuries require surgery. Ross’s injury requires surgery. No specific reason was given by Swinney at first as to why Ross requires surgery. After the surgery which will take place on Friday, Ross will have to have time to recover. This will require Ross to miss sit out this upcoming season and receive a red shirt from the Tigers so that he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining when and if he returns to the field in 2021 for Clemson. That is what is at stake if Ross’s injury is more severe than believed. An X-ray revealed Ross had a problem in his neck – a congenital fusion that he was born with, according to Swinney in a press release on Monday. The issue does threaten Ross’s football career. It could cause paralysis if he is hit the wrong way while attempting to catch a pass for the Tigers. But, his doctor is optimistic.
Swinney said the issue is frustrating for Justyn because he feels fine. The Clemson coach also said that the surgery, hopefully, will take Ross out of “harm’s way.”
“Hopefully, by January, he’s doing great and he’s got a decision to make,” Swinney said in an interview and alluding to Ross staying at Clemson or announcing for the NFL Draft.
The surgery does not mean Ross’s dream of playing in the NFL is over. It is far more likely that Ross will recover from the injury and return to the team even if it means missing a season. And, even if he does take a red shirt, Ross could still be eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after playing just two seasons for Clemson. He will be three years away from graduating from high school and that is what is required by the NFL to qualify for the draft.
Then the question will be where in the draft will Ross be selected? Will he remain in the first round? Will he be a Top 10 pick? Or will Ross fall into the lower rounds? My guess is that Ross will recover from the surgery and whether he plays this upcoming season, or not, he will be drafted in the first round. Ross has already shown his talent on the field. He will show scouts he is fine during workouts before the draft – just like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa did after his hip surgery this past college football season.
In a recent mock draft, Ross was projected as the No. 17 pick in the first round by Green Bay. Another one has Ross going in the first round with the No. 7 pick by the Detroit Lions. In both mock drafts, Ross is the second wide receiver to be picked – behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. In a third mock draft, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle falls in at No. 7 with the Lions and Ross fails to make the first round. In a surprise selection, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, an offensive tackle, is the No. 1 pick in this draft and Lawrence is No. 2.
So, here we are as the college football season looms just four months down the road, wondering whether Ross will be able to play again. The coronavirus may have delayed Ross being able to have his surgery performed. Had the surgery been performed earlier, Ross would have had more time to recover. There is no need to moan about the situation. It is what it is.
Hopefully, Ross will get better. Hopefully, he will heal quickly. Hopefully, he will play in the NFL. Hopefully, Ross will survive this stumbling block in his football life. Then we will be able to see Ross play on Sundays with some team. And this moment in his life, will be forgotten.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.