Auburn, Ala.--Going into his senior season Corey Grant said he was going to show he is tough enough to consistently run the football between the tackles. Two games into Auburn’s 2014 season the speedy running back has been both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside for the Tigers.
“Going into every game this year, I’m trying to be a more physical back,” Grant says. “As I’m running the ball there have been some times where I could have got out of bounds, but I would rather lower my shoulder and try to break that tackle or get two or three more yards.”
Heading into Thursday’s battle of Top 25 teams at Kansas State, Grant leads the Tigers in yards per carry with a more than healthy 8.8 per rush.
Last season, running the ball 66 times, he averaged 9.8 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns as a key member of Auburn’s SEC Championship team.
As a junior he averaged 4.71 runs per game. Through two games this season the average is 10 runs per game. Auburn’s leading rusher, Cameron Artis-Payne, is averaging 21 carries per game at 6.9 yards per attempt.
Asked if it is frustrating to not get more chances to run the ball, Grant says, “It’s not really frustrating, but it’s a long season. Guys get banged up so being the 1B, you’re always one play away. You never know what is going to happen so you just have to stay ready.”
Since transferring to Auburn from Alabama, Grant has consistently won praise from his coaches and teammates for his willingness to do whatever it takes to play to his full potential. That effort is nothing new, according to Brian Blackmon, who coached Grant at Opelika High.
“Corey’s work ethic is second to none,” Blackmon says. “He is one of the hardest working kids who ever came through here. He was willing to do everything we asked plus some.
“He was always a grinder in the weight room,” the coach notes. “He really worked hard on trying to be the best he can be. He has tremendous speed and he really worked hard on his strength.
“He is a great leader–not so much vocally, but by example,” Blackmon points out about Grant. “He did everything right. I never heard a teacher or anybody else say a bad word about him.”
Grant’s father, Ike, was an outstanding player at Alabama State and with the New York Jets and followed that with a successful high school coaching career at LaFayette. Blackmon says the influence his dad has had on Corey is obvious.
“The biggest thing he is comes from a hard-working family,” the coach says. “His mom and dad have done a great job making him into a high character young man. You can see that in the way he plays the game.”
Grant says when he was being recruited he thought he would have a chance to play sooner at Alabama than Auburn, which influenced his decision to go with the Tide.
“After being there a year and realizing they probably were not going to use me like they said and with them wanting to move me to cornerback, I figured it would probably be best to find a spread offense to play in,” he says.
“The whole time I was being recruited it was a hard decision because I knew Coach (Gus) Malzahn’s offense would be perfect for me, but I thought I would have a chance to play faster in Alabama’s offense with them needing a (speed) guy right away,” he says. “That didn’t work out though. I knew Coach Malzahn’s offense would be perfect for me so I talked to my parents and we decided I would come on back.
Corey Grant is shown in action as a junior.
Grant also has two receptions for 12 yards this season and one kickoff return for 32 yards. The senior made a leaping catch in game two vs. San Jose State when he jumped high to bring in a pass from Nick Marshall when the quarterback couldn’t find an open receiver downfield.
“I think it’ll increase,” Grant says of his opportunities to catch passes. “It just really comes down whatever defense we are playing and whatever reads that Nick has. On that play I was the last read and it came down to me.”
Grant, the two-time state 100-meter champion at Opelika High School, has always been effective running on the corners. This year he has taken his performance to a higher level with his ability to knock defenders backwards when he runs inside.
“Throughout (the offseason) that was one of my main focuses, to try and get better and be comfortable running our inside zones and reads,” he says. “I think I did pretty good with that and I think it’s starting to show. Hopefully, as the season goes on I can get some more of those carries.
“Running inside, I’m following my block and making sure I’m making the right cuts,” Grant added. “The physical part of it is not one thing I focus on, it’s just making my right reads and trying to be more like Cam (Artis-Payne). He makes good reads. Our inside runs, that is what I’m trying to get better at, and after breaking the line of scrimmage just using my speed to break past the secondary.”
After taking two days off from practice, Grant and his teammates will return to the field on Sunday evening to continue preparations for Thursday’s game at 19th-ranked Kansas State. “They are a really physical team with big guys,” he says. “They play fundamental football. It is going to be a good game.”