Justyn Ross is the Kansas City Chiefs’ latest running back in the NFL, but he’s not just a football player. He’s also an aspiring artist and poet who was born to parents with cerebral palsy. After years of writing poetry and drawing on paper before his injury, he realized that now, through art and poetry he can “find some normalcy.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At a three-day Kansas City Chiefs rookie camp that ended Monday, Justyn Ross didn’t do much to stand out. Ross’ camp, though, was a big success in maybe the most crucial way of all.
The former Clemson wide receiver made it to an NFL practice field and competed after signing as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs last week.
Ross, who missed a college season in 2020 due to a spinal issue and then spent all of last season recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, had such minimal expectations.
Ross’ weekend aims are to “just get my foot in the door and try to make plays.” “Just putting in the time for real is a lot of hard work. I’m just trying to go back to my old self.”
The way Ross performed early in his collegiate career was what he referred to as “regular me.” At Clemson, he recorded 46 receptions for 1,000 yards as a rookie and 66 catches for 865 yards as a sophomore. When he became eligible for the draft, he was seen as a possible first-round choice.
Ross then took a huge hit in spring practice in 2020 and was discovered to have a congenital fusion in his spine during the ensuing medical check. Doctors informed him his football career was in risk at the moment.
He underwent surgery to fix the condition later, and it went well enough that he was able to play again last season. He was unable to achieve the statistics he had early in his career, in part due to his foot ailment. During the 2021 season, Ross caught 46 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s sort of feeling himself out here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “having been wounded the last several years.” “You can see the talent, but he was knocking off the rust.”
Reid said that the Chiefs would not set any restrictions on Ross, who is expected to be a full participant when the complete club begins offseason exercise later in May. Following Ross’ signing, General Manager Brett Veach said that Chiefs physicians had spent considerable time reviewing Ross’ medical condition and had cleared him to play.
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“Our [doctors] have always been on the cautious side,” Veach added. “Our doctors did an excellent job of going over everything. It makes things a little bit simpler for me. I’m well aware of our medical team’s abilities… I’ll be happy if they say yes. If they say no, I don’t suddenly decide to become a doctor and claim, “Well, this team said this.” We’re OK if our physicians say so.”
Ross joined the Chiefs at a time when their wide receivers were in transition. They traded Tyreek Hill and lost two more top wideouts from last season in free agency Byron Pringle and DeMarcus Robinson. They brought back Mecole Hardman, signed free agents JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and selected Skyy Moore of Western Michigan in the second round.
With no one’s job defined yet, Ross might get some playing time if he performs well in camp.
“He’ll have a chance talent-wise as long as he remains healthy,” Veach added. “How he handles the playbook and being moved about [to various spots] and remaining healthy and being disciplined in relation to thinking forward to preventive things he can do for his body will be key.”
Ross is content to stay with the Chiefs and participate for the time being. He expressed disappointment at not getting picked, stating he hoped to be chosen anywhere in the first seven rounds but that going undrafted was more probable.
And at this stage, it’s all about making the most of the available playing time.
“Of course, I’m eager to prove everyone wrong,” Ross said, “but I’m just trying to fill my role and contribute to the team.”