Late in the third quarter of the national championship, Clemson holds a 37-16 lead. Comfortable, sure, yet Nick Saban and Alabama know this stage. It's not over.
Star freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence is having a tremendous game, slicing a Crimson Tide defense like few have ever done. On this 3rd-and-9, however, the ball is drifting behind his intended target.
But that target is Justyn Ross.
He leaps, extends a hand over Alabama cornerback Josh Jobe and snatches this pass. Seriously, the ball hardly moves from the moment it arrives in his grasp. Four plays later, Clemson scores another touchdown and kicks the extra point for a 44-16 advantage.
This sequence, though, almost never had a chance to happen.
During his freshman year at Central High School in Phenix City, Alabama, Ross didn't want to play football anymore. Instead, as he told Matt Connolly of The State in October, basketball had his attention.
Fortunately for Clemson, football coach Jamey DuBose persuaded the talented athlete to stick it out.
"He walked in my office and told me he didn't want to play anymore," DuBose told Connolly. "I stood in front of the door and told him he wasn't going to ever walk out because he'd be making the biggest mistake of his entire life."
Within four years, Ross is on the brink of becoming a college football icon. His production is already worthy of the label.
As a true freshman, the 6'4", 210-pound wideout grabbed 46 passes for a team-high 1,000 yards. Ross scored nine touchdowns, and his 21.7-yard average per catch ranked fourth among qualifiers in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He ranked in the top six nationally of catches for at least 30, 40 and 50 yards.
The only comparable players returning for 2019 are 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy from Alabama and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace―a second-team AP All-American. Those rising juniors are the class of the position in college football.
Along with teammate Tee Higgins, Ross is closing the gap.
While no one reaches 1,000 yards by accident, Ross didn't simply demolish weak teams. Sure, his first career 100-yard display came against Georgia Southern. But his two best performances of the season were under the brightest lights.
Against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, Ross set career highs with six catches, 148 yards and two scores. During the national championship, he grabbed six passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Consider this, though: Ross hardly played a full season.
Four games into 2018, per Anna Hickey of 247Sports, he'd managed only 58 snaps―not routes, snaps. Ross gradually held a larger role, but his statistical ceiling is far from reached.
According to Pro Football Focus, he led the FBS in yards per route run.
Impressive, right? Given that he totaled 1,000 receiving yards, that number also means Ross ran fewer than 15 routes per game.
In 2019, Ross will be a fixture in the starting lineup. That, by itself, should lead to an increase in production. He'll likely garner a larger target share now that everyone's favorite AARP member, Hunter Renfrow, has finally run out of eligibility.
Development isn't necessarily linear, but Ross should improve. Lawrence is potentially a legend at quarterback, and the two's clearly apparent on-field connection isn't going to disappear.
Plus, Lawrence will have a greater impact next season. In 2018, he served as the backup to Kelly Bryant through four weeks. Throw in an injury-shortened fifth game, and the freshman quarterback was basically Clemson's full-time quarterback for only 10 appearances.
Despite that, Lawrence racked up 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Just think what he can accomplish as the undisputed No. 1 on the depth chart.
And that's the guy throwing Ross the football. He's still growing as a receiver and earning his place at Clemson, yet Ross is already college football's premier big-play weapon.