APTOPIX CFP National Championship Clemson Alabama Football

Clemson's Justyn Ross catches a touchdown pass during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

CLEMSON — It may be a scary thought for opposing defenses that sophomore wide receiver Justyn Ross was simply running around last season.

Clemson holds Fan Day

Ross announced his presence on a national stage in a big way as a true freshman, combining for 12 catches, 301 yards and three touchdowns in College Football Playoff games against No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Alabama. Despite not starting a single game, he led Clemson with 1,000 receiving yards a season ago, including nine touchdowns among his 46 receptions.

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He joined Sammy Watkins (1,219 in 2011) as the only players in school history to post 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman. But this season, he is looking for even bigger things with a better understanding of the offense.

"I knew I could (have an impact last season)," Ross said. "Last year, I was kind of here and there, but this year I actually understand the offense."

Understanding the offense has meant learning a new position this season.

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Rather than sitting behind junior Tee Higgins playing the boundary wide receiver position, Ross has moved to the opposite side of the field — where he hopes the additional space will result in even more opportunities to make plays.

"I'm learning a new position. I'm just trying to show that I can learn (the new position)," Ross said. "It's not really all that tough because I know the concepts. When I get out there, I kind of know what everyone is supposed to do. ...

"I was the boundary behind Tee and since I sort of feel I have a lot more space to work, I mean I get to open up my arsenal a little bit more."

If Ross opens up his "arsenal" even more in 2019, there is an opportunity for the Tigers' offense to be even more explosive than it was last season.

Clemson’s explosiveness was reflected in its school-record 7.35-yards-per-play average, which shattered the previous record of 6.50 from 2006. The Tigers ranked in the top two in the nation in plays of 20-plus yards (104, second), 30-plus yards (59, tied for first), 40-plus yards (35, first), 50-plus yards (23, first) and 60-plus yards (13, tied for second).

They also recorded a school-record 19 touchdowns covering 50 yards or more, annihilating the previous record of 14 set by the 2006 squad. Players who scored 18 of those 19 touchdowns of 50 yards or more a year ago return for Clemson in 2019.

Even with all of the expectations being placed on Ross and the Tigers' offense, with Ross being named a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, he is only focused on putting in the same work that made him a phenomenal freshman.

"I'm keeping that same mentality going in and ... just trying to make sure that I do the right thing," Ross said.

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io


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