Central grad Justyn Ross a freshman sensation heading into national championship game

Clemson’s Justyn Ross recaps strong performance against Notre Dame

Freshman receiver caught six passes for 148 yards and two scores
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Freshman receiver caught six passes for 148 yards and two scores

Eleven months ago, when then-Central senior wide receiver Justyn Ross announced in a nationally televised ceremony on ESPN2 that he chose to sign with Clemson instead of home-state Alabama or Auburn, the five-star recruit’s high school coach made a prediction that is proving to be accurate.

“I think once he really gets into a football mindset where it’s 365 days out of the year with proper training, proper nutrition, proper lifting, proper speed training and proper development, I think you’re fixing to see a guy that’s unbelievable,” Central football coach Jamey DuBose told the Ledger-Enquirer at the Feb. 7 signing ceremony. “I think that you’re going to have somebody that has something you watch on your TV on Sundays.”

Although he was referring to the day when the NFL plays most of its games, what Ross has done on Saturdays this season for Clemson — and especially last Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas — have only added more evidence to support the coach’s forecast.

All of which has brought Ross to this momentous Monday, when the No. 2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) face the defending national champion and No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0) in the College Football Playoff final game.

Central-Phenix City's 4-star wide receiver tells Clemson Tiger fans that "you got a good one coming" during National Signing Day

The matchup will be played on an NFL field, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., so perhaps it’s a prelude to DuBose’s prediction coming to fruition. For now, Ross’ supporters are reveling in his fantastic freshman season and hoping Clemson caps it with the title trophy.

As he watched his former player’s pulsating performance during Clemson’s 30-3 domination of No. 3 Notre Dame (12-1) in the CFP semifinals, DuBose said, he wasn’t surprised.

“I’m proud for him, but he’s been catching balls and scoring touchdowns for a long time,” DuBose told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview this week. “It was just a matter of time for them to give him the opportunity. This was just on a big stage and in the spotlight.”

DuBose got a tip that Ross would have an increased opportunity against Notre Dame.

“His coach texted me right before the game to expect Justyn to have a big day,” DuBose said. “He was in the game plan more than usual.”

That prompted DuBose to text Ross, “Play like you always do. Go out there and have fun.”

He certainly did.

At a clutch time, the freshman sensation produced the best game of his budding college career: six receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns, setting a Cotton Bowl record for yards per catch with 24.7. Ross set another Cotton Bowl record with 137 receiving yards in the first half, including those two touchdowns, one 52 yards, the other 42.

DuBose watched the game at home in Phenix City.

“It’s always exciting to see one of the guys you coached do well and play the way he did,” DuBose said. “But we expect him to do even bigger things.”

DuBose then made another prediction: “There’s plenty more upside you’re going to see out of Justyn Ross.”

Ross (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) has played in each of Clemson’s 14 games this season. He is fourth on the team in receptions with 40 but second in yards receiving with 847 and first in yards per catch with 21.2. He also is second in touchdown receptions with eight.

Another former Central player in the national championship game will be Alabama redshirt-freshman linebacker Markail Benton (6-2, 231). In his 13 games played as a reserve middle linebacker and special-teams member this season, he has 14 total tackles, including four solo.

Other players on the Clemson roster from the Columbus area are:

Freshman running back Lyn-J Dixon (5-10, 195) from Taylor County High School. In his 13 games played this season, he is second on the team in net rushing yards (547), fourth in rushing touchdowns (five) and first in yards per carry (8.8.).

Freshman running back Ty Lucas (5-7, 190) from Chattahoochee County High School. He hasn’t played this season.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

Both quarterback Zion Webb and receiver Justyn Ross are returning to the field after suffering ACL tears. Webb's came in the 2015 season-opener, Ross' in a basketball game in December.