Fearless and faithful, Clemson’s Justyn Ross is ready to make the most of his second chance

Let’s celebrate for a bit. Let’s feel good for one of the best wide receivers in the country.

Justyn Ross is playing again. That should be enough for now, but it isn’t. Not only is Ross playing, he is a Preseason All-America selection.

Clemson is delighted, of course. Ross’ return from potentially devastating surgery could have impacted his quality of life. Never mind the Tigers got to the College Football Playoff semifinals last season without him. That’s not the point at all.

Ross returning at all is an admirable accomplishment considering he came coming close to never playing again. Last summer, Ross was lost for the season due to a congenial neck and spine condition. It was nine months ago that coach Dabo Swinney assured fans that Ross would be back in 2021, but there is an aperture between being back and being a Preseason All-American.

Ross, a 6-foot-4 junior from Alabama, returns at 100%. His entire comeback is worth celebrating.

“My mama she always told me keep that faith,” Ross said. “Always told me I’m in God’s hands.”

“I just can’t tell you how awesome it was to see him out there,” Swinney said. “He reminds you quickly of who he is. Just good to see him back out there playing football.”

Ross’ return bolsters an already dynastic Clemson. Coming off the Trevor Lawrence era, he figures to be the No. 1 target for sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei.

Ross’ story was inspirational before his surgery. Alabama failed to land the top in-state player in 2018. He chose Clemson, arriving in the same recruiting class as Lawrence and Xavier Thomas.

In his first two seasons, Ross caught 112 balls for almost 1,900 yards. In 2019, he led the Tigers in catches (66). His name is all over the College Football Playoff records. Ross owns the second-longest play from scrimmage in CFP history. The 74-yard touchdown reception was part of the 44-16 thrashing of Alabama in 2019.

A one-handed catch against Alabama’s then-freshman defensive back Josh Jobe is one of the best you’ll see.

“For this kid from Alabama to have the opportunity to beat Alabama for the national championship, I know exactly how he feels,” said Swinney, an Alabama native who has beaten his alma mater a couple of times for national championships. 

The comeback was made out of sight. It’s hard to imagine what Ross went through — surgery, rehab — to get back on the field. His doctor, David Okonkwo, is one of the best neurosurgeons in the country.

“I ain’t got no piece of fear in me,” Ross said recently. “It was hard, just the not knowing part. … I shed a tear. … This is something I’ve been working for my whole life. To have it taken away from me …”

There is some history in Clemson receivers making epic comebacks. In 2015, Mike Williams broke his neck running head-first into the goal post after catching a scoring pass against Wofford. Williams returned to have an All-American season in 2016. 

As Ross takes the field Sept. 4 against Georgia, nothing will be held back.

“I ain’t going to lie. There was never a Plan B,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Swinney can delight in his star receiver being able to take a hit again in practice.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player so happy to get tackled,” the coach said.