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David Grimes: Ups and Downs

BIll Brink | Friday, November 21, 2008

For David Grimes, growing up in Michigan made him want to beat Michigan.

The senior wide receiver from Detroit said he came to Notre Dame for the same reason many other athletes say they come here – the combination of good academics and solid athletic programs. But before giving the party-line response, Grimes mentioned the Wolverines.

This year, the win tasted particularly sweet.

“Last year, having that disappointing loss, and then to come back and get the win is huge,” he said. “Eventually I had to go back home and put up with all the Michigan fans, and now I can talk a little trash myself.”

Whatever his motivations for coming here, Grimes has made an impact. Heading into tomorrow’s game, he is the active leader in career receptions with 79 and career receiving yards with 783. This year, Irish coach Charlie Weis rewarded him by naming him offensive captain.

He’s had the best of both worlds, visiting two BCS Bowls before playing for the worst team in Fighting Irish history.

“It was disappointing and frustrating but I think the best part we got out of that season is that we made an effort not let that happen again,” Grimes said. “I think that’s kind of what we fed off into this year.”

Sibling split

Grimes played with his older brother Carl for three years at St. Martin DePorres High School in Detroit. The pair won two state championships, in David’s sophomore and junior year. His junior year, Grimes caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in the title game.

In Grimes’ senior year, DePorres lost in the state title game despite his stat line. Grimes, who also played defensive back, returned a fumble 36 yards for a touchdown and made seven tackles in addition to his five catches for 59 yards. Grimes caught 41 passes for 800 yards and eight touchdowns that year and was a team captain. The Detroit Free press selected him as a first-team all-state wide receiver.

Carl went on to play at Michigan State. He graduated in May, but had a year of eligibility left, so he transferred to Saginaw Valley State.

“It’s great to be out there with your brother and take it to the next level in college,” Grimes said.

The rivalry between David and Carl when Notre Dame played Michigan State, David said, never got too serious.

“Just a little friendly competition, talking trash here and there,” he said. “Bragging rights when we come home.”

Grimes said he enjoyed high school because of the tight community and the interaction with teammates off the field.

“It was probably the best four years of my life,” he said. “Just high school itself, the school I went to was real closely knit. We did a lot of things together outside of sports. Some of my best friends come from high school.”

Jolt of reality

That sentiment vanished during Grimes’ first year at Notre Dame. Between the course load, the rigorous football schedule and being away from home, he said, freshman year took its toll on him.

“I got real homesick, even though it’s close, I didn’t have a car to go back,” said Grimes, a marketing major. “It was not one of my better years here. School was real tough.”

Still, he was not entirely unprepared.

“It’s everything that my brother told me it would be,” he said. “It would be demanding in the classroom and demanding sports-wise, but you got to get through it and make the most of it.”

Off the field, Grimes said spending time with his friends helped him acclimate to campus life and take his mind off the stress. On the field, he began to see time as a kick returner. He averaged 22.5 yards and had a 40-yarder against Purdue. Even though he had success, he said he still wanted to catch the ball.

“I was fine with it, but I was also still competing to get in at wide receiver,” he said.

He got there sophomore year, catching 26 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He caught eight passes for 76 yards against UCLA. Meanwhile, he still returned kicks, and broke a 50-yard return against North Carolina. Against Navy, he caught his first touchdown pass, a 36-yard strike in the corner of the end zone.

The chance to play with Brady Quinn was nice, Grimes said, considering he used to watch him play on TV.

“Seeing how far I’ve come, sitting at high school at home watching Notre Dame and Brady Quinn, and actually having the opportunity to play for him, play with him,” Grimes said. “All my friends and family ask me, you played with Brady Quinn, how does it feel?”

During Grimes’ first two seasons, Notre Dame reached the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Both those experiences will stick with Grimes after he graduates.

“I think of it as if there was a sports clicker, going week by week,” he said. “Notre Dame beats Michigan, Notre Dame goes to the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame goes to the Sugar Bowl against LSU.”

One experience in New Orleans had a special impact. The team helped clean up a building that Hurricane Katrina had damaged, Grimes said, and he liked helping the hurricane victims. He said the trip was also a nice opportunity for his family.

“Down in New Orleans, it was a good opportunity after Hurricane Katrina to get down there and help the community with the little service that we did,” Grimes said. “But we also had a good time down there. And it was an opportunity for my family to come down and experience some things that they would never get to see.”

9-3 to 3-9

In 2007, Grimes’ junior year, the team fell from being a top-25 contender and ended up losing nine games – two of them, to Michigan and USC, 38-0 losses. Grimes caught his share of passes (27) but his yardage dropped, to 224. He missed the UCLA and Boston College games because of an injured ankle, but still scored two touchdowns in the season.

The turnover, Grimes said, is a part of college football.

“We had a lot of new faces coming in, and a lot of guys graduated and left,” he said. “But that’s the nature of college football, guys leaving, new guys coming.”

But the season strengthened the team, Grimes said – players worked out in the offseason and the team came together early in 2008. The Irish avenged the loss to Michigan with a 35-17 win at home in the rain. That game, Grimes said, signaled the return of good football.

“After the Michigan game, we actually had evidence,” he said. “It wasn’t just lip service, it actually came to fruition.”

Grimes said he wants to give the NFL a try after graduation, but if that doesn’t work out, he’ll go into advertising. Whether he continues to play football or not, his memories of Notre Dame’s successes will keep football in his head forever.

“It was one of the best times of my career here,” he said of Notre Dame’s two BCS Bowls, “and I’ll remember it when I leave.”