Grant doesn’t mind playing in the shadows
Chris Federico | Thursday, September 4, 2003
As a sophomore last season, Irish tailback Ryan Grant amassed 1,085 yards on the ground, becoming only the seventh Irish back to accomplish the feat.
But when running back Julius Jones – who was expelled from the University in the summer of 2002 for academic reasons – announced he would return to Notre Dame for 2003, many forgot about Grant and his nine touchdowns.
And Grant would have it no other way.
“You’re only as good as what you do now,” he said. “I’ve got to go out this year and dominate and perform on the field. Julius is a great player, and the way I see it, if the defense concentrates on him and sleeps on me, I’d rather that anyway. Let someone else get the media.”
But when Jones returned to Notre Dame for fall practices, many assumed he would fall back into the starter’s position he vacated before last season. But Grant, who sat out spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, has impressed the Irish coaches in fall practice and currently sits atop the depth chart heading into Notre Dame’s first game of the season.
“I think its probably as much maintaining the job,” offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “Ryan has had a very solid camp, and he hasn’t done anything that would take away from him losing the starting job. … has gotten a little bit bigger this year. He’s a lot faster than he was, and he’s healthy and that’s the biggest factor right there.”
Grant, who wasn’t content to sit on the accomplishments and accolades of the 2002 season, knew there were several areas of his game he could improve to become a better running back.
“I worked on all aspects of my game. It wasn’t a matter of just fixing one,” Grant said. “I felt like I had to work on everything so I could dominate on the field and be the type of back I know I can be. I worked on speed, strength, agility, catching balls, pass routes, blocking, protection – all types of things.”
Working out together during the summer and, later, competing with each other during fall practices, Grant and Jones have pushed each other and made themselves even better running backs.
“We complement each other very well,” Grant said. “During the summer we worked to make each other complete backs and become more well rounded. But it’s just competing that makes us better.
“When we make good plays, we watch to see what the other person did well. If I make a good play he asks me about it, and if he makes a good play I ask him. We all do a good job of communicating with each other.”
But with Grant and Jones together in the backfield, the Irish could enjoy a versatility at that position they haven’t seen in years. The tandem gives Notre Dame a complement of speed and power reminiscent of the Irish teams from the early ’90s.
“[Grant] has been playing very well in camp, but you also right now inject Julius and [tailback] Marcus [Wilson] and it gives you a pretty good combination,” Diedrick said. “Ryan is more of a downhill power runner but has the ability to stretch it outside. Julius has great quick feet, can make people miss, can really accelerate and get north and south and has the ability to take it to the house.”
With one 1,000-yard rushing season already under his belt, Grant has further plans for success with the Irish, but he would rather keep the football world in suspense and reveal them in his own manner.
“I have goals, but I can’t reveal them right now,” Grant said. “I’ll keep them to myself and let you all see them on Saturdays.”