Clemson's Justyn Ross to undergo spinal surgery, miss 2020 season

Jan 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Justyn Ross (8) catches a pass against LSU Tigers cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) in the fourth quarter in the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

The national title hopes of the Clemson Tigers and the talent likely to be available in the 2021 NFL draft each took a significant hit Monday with head coach Dabo Swinney announcing that star wide receiver Justyn Ross will miss the upcoming season following the discovery of a life-long spinal condition.

Ross, second only to LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase in NFLDraftScout’s initial wide receiver rankings, was injured in March during Clemson’s final practice before COVID-19 shut down team activities throughout all of college football. The injury was initially thought to be to his shoulder and might require surgery in June, without a timetable given as to when Ross may be able to return to action.

Speaking to reporters during a conference call June 1, however, Swinney provided graver news, saying that the injury was not to Ross’ shoulder but was instead due to a “congenital fusion” of his neck and spine that the 20-year old receiver had been born with and that the junior already had a history of stingers.

According to Swinney, Ross will undergo surgery on Friday. Dr. David Okonkwo, a leading neuroscientist, will perform the surgery.

The always-cheery Swinney said that he is “optimistic” that Ross would be able to play football again but was cautious.

"He feels perfectly fine," Swinney said, "but doctors know he's at risk."

Needless to say, any kind of spinal injury can end a player’s career – or more importantly, his life – raising all sorts of questions about Ross’ future.

Ross does not have to look far to find an example of a player recovering from similarly scary situation, however.

It was a little less than five years ago when current Los Angeles Chargers’ standout and 2017 first round choice Mike Williams fractured a bone in his neck colliding with the goal post while catching a touchdown against Wofford.

Williams missed the rest of the 2015 season after undergoing surgery to stabilize his spine but returned healthy the following year, leading the Tigers with 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns during Clemson’s title run. He announced his decision to enter the 2017 draft shortly after Clemson beat Alabama, ultimately getting drafted seventh overall.

The 6-3, 205 pound Ross is a similar combination of size, physicality and speed as his Clemson’ predecessor, alternately beating college defenders at the rim with his size and body control and racing past them as a vertical threat.

Ross led the Tigers with 66 catches as a sophomore, ranking behind only for Tee Higgins – the 33 overall player selected this past spring – in receiving yards (865) and touchdowns (eight). He was even more statistically impressive as a true freshman, just cracking the 1,000 yard mark on 46 grabs, including nine touchdowns.

One can only hope Ross’ recovery goes as well as Williams'. 

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