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Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton have been named joint recipients of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2021 Brian Piccolo Award, the league announced on Monday.

The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. As a standout running back at Wake Forest, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. His courageous fight against the disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.

After missing all of the 2020 season due to a career-threatening congenital condition in his spine, Ross returned to the starting lineup for Clemson this season, starting 10 games, before being sidelined with a foot injury. The redshirt junior caught 46 passes for 514 yards and had three touchdowns.

“Justyn Ross is the epitome of the Brian Piccolo Award,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney in a statement. “This is a great, great player who went from being told he was never going to play football again, to maybe there is a 50 percent chance and facing a 17-19 month grueling process. To see him come back and play 10 games and do the things that he did, I am so grateful.


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“One of the worst days I’ve experienced as a coach was being there when the doctors told him what was going on and telling him that he may never play again. And one of the best days I’ve had as a coach was seeing him take the field again for the Tigers and seeing him get that first diving catch. I’m really proud of him and thankful that I had a chance to be part of his journey.”

Milton, who transferred to Florida State from UCF late last year, suffered a grueling leg injury in the 2018 regular-season finale. The graduate transfer suffered artery and nerve damage to his leg, a dislocated knee and multiple torn ligaments and tendons. He nearly had his right leg amputated after the helmet-to-knee hit caused a lack of blood flow to his leg. 

Doctors removed a vein from his left leg to help create a new artery for his right leg to restore blood flow and successfully save this leg. The main goal from the surgeons who operated on him was for him to hopefully one day walk without a limp and without pain. After eight surgical procedures, he persevered through more than 1,000 days of rehabilitation, and in December 2020, transferred to Florida State.

Milton appeared in six games for the Seminoles this season, completing 81 of 139 passes (58.3%) for 775 yards and three touchdowns.

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