There are two things about the 2019 College Football Playoffs National Championship Game that are perfectly clear. When the two teams – No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson – meet on Jan. 13, the Tigers will be the winning team. You can bet the house on that. Both teams are the Tigers. LSU is the Tigers and Clemson is the Tigers. The second thing that is clear, Phenix City will be represented by the winning team. Former Central High stars Tommie Robinson and Peter Parrish are a part of the LSU Tigers, while Justyn Ross and Ray Thornton are a part of the Clemson Tigers.
Robinson is the Assistant Head Coach for LSU along with being the team’s Running Backs coach and Recruiting Coordinator. Robinson played linebacker at Central in the late 70s and early 80s. He went to Troy where he became a strong safety and helped the Trojans win a Division II National Championship. His first coaching stint was at Woodham High in Pensacola, Fla. From 1988-1990, Robinson was a member of the Central High coaching staff under Wayne Trawick. From his alma mater, Robinson has traveled the country from coast to coast as either a college assistant or as an NFL assistant. He has been a college assistant at 12 different schools and for two NFL teams over his 30-year career in the sport.
Parrish is a true dual threat quarterback in his freshman season at LSU. He has not played in a game this season as he has worked every day to learn the Tigers’ offense with the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. You may see Parrish on the sideline wearing a bright yellow vest while holding up signs to relay plays to the offense. He will have the opportunity to fill a bigger role for the team next season after Burrow graduates to the NFL. Local Central fans will always remember Parrish led the Red Devils to their first undefeated season in 2018 (14-0) since the 1944 team went 9-0. He also led Central to its first state title in football since 1993 in 2018. While a two-year starter at quarterback at Central, Parrish threw for 2,920 yards and ran for another 1,312 yards. Central defeated Thompson High 52-7 in the state title game in Class 7A. In that game, Parrish ran for 100 yards and threw for 78 yards and had two touchdowns to earn the Most Valuable Player trophy. He could be designated as a redshirt this season and have four more years of eligibility remaining for the Tigers.
On the Clemson side of the field, Ross is the former Red Devil who has garnered the most attention of the four local stars. Ross stood out from the crowd last year when he helped Clemson to the National Championship. In the title game, Ross caught six passes for 154 yards with a 74-yard touchdown catch and run as the Tigers defeated the University of Alabama for the crown. Ross set two records in the Cotton Bowl in the semifinals of the playoffs with 137 yards receiving with two touchdowns in the first half and an amazing 24.7 yards per catch average for the game against Notre Dame. In the playoffs, Ross caught 12 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns. He was selected for the Associated Press All-Bowl team. He was Clemson’s leading receiver with 1,000 yards on 46 catches with nine touchdowns.
Entering the playoffs this season, Ross had a team-high 55 receptions for 742 yards with eight touchdowns in 12 starts for the Tigers. He had six receptions, another team-high, for 47 yards in the Fiesta Bowl ageist Ohio State in Clemson’s semifinals victory.
The other member of the Phenix City crowd, safety Ray Thornton, saw action in four games and will be red-shirting the 2019 season. Thornton played on both defense and ob special teams in the games he was on the field for the Tigers. He made his collegiate debut on special teams against Georgia Tech.
Before signing with Clemson, Thornton helped Central win the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 7A football title with the Red Devils’ 62-7 victory over Thompson in 2018. Thornton had an interception with a 68-yard return – a record for Class 7A’s championship game. The interception led to a field goal for Central. He, like his former teammate Peter Parrish of LSU, helped the Red Devils to their first undefeated season since 1944 and their first state title since 1993.
Ross, Thornton and Parrish were teammates as Red Devils in 2017. Robinson was LSU’s recruiter for the Phenix City area and attempted to recruit all three of the players to his school. So the four men have ties that are more than just being former Central High football players and being a part of the next National Championship Game. They are from Phenix City. That is the most important thing in my eyes. They are us. They represent us in the eyes of everyone watching the game. Their actions, whether as the winners or the losers of the game, represent us.
In closing this column, I have a little advice for the Phenix City Council and the Russell County Commission. Go ahead now and prepare your resolutions for the winners of the National Championship game. Just leave space for two names, the name of the winning team and the score. It will not be wasted time and effort. No matter the final outcome, we will celebrate champions from right here in Phenix City. We will once again be represented by the winning team. Go Tigers!
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.