Justyn Ross named co-winner of prestigious ACC award


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Ross battled through injuries this season
Ross battled through injuries this season

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Florida State senior quarterback McKenzie Milton and Clemson junior wide receiver Justyn Ross have been named joint recipients of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2021 Brian Piccolo Award, the league announced on Monday.

The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. As a standout running back at Wake Forest, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. His courageous fight against the disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.

Milton, who hails from Kapolei, Hawai'i, joined Florida State this season as a graduate transfer from UCF, where he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in the 2018 regular-season finale. A two-time Heisman Trophy candidate, Milton suffered artery and nerve damage to his leg, a dislocated knee and multiple torn ligaments and tendons. He nearly had his right leg amputated after the helmet-to-knee hit caused a lack of blood flow to his leg.

Doctors removed a vein from his left leg to help create a new artery for his right leg to restore blood flow and successfully save this leg. The main goal from the surgeons who operated on him was for him to hopefully one day walk without a limp and without pain. After eight surgical procedures, he persevered through more than 1,000 days of rehabilitation, and in December 2020, transferred to Florida State.

Milton appeared in six games for the Seminoles this season, completing 81 of 139 passes (58.3%) for 775 yards and three touchdowns.

“I am incredibly happy for McKenzie to be recognized with the Piccolo Award,” said Florida State head coach Mike Norvell. “He has displayed a tremendous amount of resilience, drive and competitive spirit throughout his long process of returning to play football. McKenzie made an unbelievable investment to reach his goal even when the odds were firmly against him.

“He is a great teammate, and his character and leadership have made a profound impact on our program. We are so proud McKenzie is part of our Seminole Family.”

Clemson’s Ross caught 112 passes for nearly 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first two collegiate seasons, but he was diagnosed in March 2020 with a congenital fusion condition of his neck and spine, plus a disc protrusion that ultimately required surgery. The Phenix City, Alabama, native missed the entire 2020 season and began rehab amidst doubts he would ever play football again.

Ross battled his way back to again become an integral part of the Tigers’ offensive attack this season. Despite a foot injury that sidelined him for the final two regular-season games, Ross leads the team with 46 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns and regained his status as a probable early-round NFL Draft pick.

“Justyn Ross is the epitome of the Brian Piccolo Award,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “This is a great, great player who went from being told he was never going to play football again, to maybe there is a 50 percent chance and facing a 17-19 month grueling process. To see him come back and play 10 games and do the things that he did, I am so grateful.

“One of the worst days I’ve experienced as a coach was being there when the doctors told him what was going on and telling him that he may never play again. And one of the best days I’ve had as a coach was seeing him take the field again for the Tigers and seeing him get that first diving catch. I’m really proud of him and thankful that I had a chance to be part of his journey.”

Milton becomes the seventh Florida State student-athlete to be honored with the Brian Piccolo Award and the first since running back Chris Thompson in 2012. Ross becomes the fifth recipient from Clemson and the first since defensive tackle Warren Forney in 1995.

ACC Brian Piccolo Award Winners

1970 Paul Miller, QB, North Carolina

1971 Jim Webster, LB, North Carolina

1972 Mark Johnson, QB, Duke

1973 Al Neville, QB, Maryland

1974 David Visaggio, DG, Maryland

1975 Scott Gardner, QB, Virginia

1976 Jeff Green, DE, Duke

1977 Ralph Stringer, DB, NC State

1978 Rex Varn, DB, Clemson

1979 not available

1980 Jack Cain, DB, Clemson

1981 Aaron Stewart, DB, Duke

1982 Kenny Duckett, WR, Wake Forest

1983 John Piedmonte, OLB, Wake Forest

1984 J.D. Maarleveld, T, Maryland

1985 Danny Burmeister, DB, N. Carolina

1986 Ray Williams, WR, Clemson

1987 no recipient

1988 Jerry Mays, TB, Georgia Tech

1989 Michael Anderson, RB, Maryland

1990 Marc Mays, WR, Duke

1991 Scott Adell, T, NC State

1992 Dan Footman, DE, Florida State

Randy Cuthbert, TB, Duke

1993 Scott Youmans, DL, Duke

1994 Chris Harrison, T, Virginia

1995 Warren Forney, DT, Clemson

1996 John Lewis, RB, Wake Forest

1997 Sam Cowart, LB, Florida State

1998 Anthony Poindexter, DB, Virginia

Corey Simon, DT, Florida State

1999 Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State

2000 Ed Wilder, FB, Georgia Tech

2001 Matt Crawford, T, Maryland

2002 Anquan Boldin, WR, Florida State

2003 Kevin Bailey, OL, Virginia

2004 Frank Gore, RB, Miami

2005 Ryan Best, S, Virginia

2006 Glenn Sharpe, Miami

2007 Matt Robinson, DE, Wake Forest

2008 Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

2009 Toney Baker, RB, NC State

2010 Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College

Nate Irving, LB, NC State

2011 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

2012 Shayon Green, DE, Miami

Chris Thompson, RB, Florida State

2013 Robert Godhigh, RB, Georgia Tech

2014 Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

2015 Hunter Knighton, OL, Miami

2016 James Conner, RB, Pitt

2017 Trevon Young, DE, Louisville

2018 Greg Dortch, WR/KR, Wake Forest

2019 Richard Yeargin, DE, Boston College

2020 Nolan Cooney, P, Syracuse

2021 McKenzie Milton, QB, Florida State

Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

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