Gopher Target Seeking Receiving Perfection
This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. Such is the case with St. Martin De Porres senior wide receivers Talonnie Russell and David Grimes.
Despite standing in at 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-9, respectively, Russell and Grimes form the nation's best pass-catching duo. Of course, it helps that both players are blessed with exceptional speed and great hands, which makes it easier for them to overcome their lack of height.
But they are also two of the most fundamentally sound receivers in the country, thanks to the Eagles' coaching staff. For example, De Porres head coach Greg Carter focuses on teaching his receivers to run good routes by having them plant their feet and make sharp cuts during practice.
Carter also has drills for his wide receivers that may look odd to the outside observer but are a huge part of the Eagles' success.
Carter's most unusual — yet most effective — drill is the one he uses for receivers to work on their hands. Players place their stomachs against the goal post with their arms extended as De Porres coaches throw passes to them. The drill forces receivers to catch the ball with their hands, not with their chest or forearms.
"We look for kids to catch the ball in a diamond shape, meaning if they put their thumbs and index fingers together, it forms a diamond," says Carter, who is in his 10th year at the helm and has led the Eagles to four state championships during his tenure. "If they catch the ball through that area, they're able to squeeze the ball on the sides and catch it clean. If they catch the ball with the palm of their hands, it can bounce off like a brick wall."
Russell, Grimes and all the other receivers at De Porres have become so obsessed with catching the ball correctly that they've developed a punishment when they make a mistake.
"We all do 25 push-ups after every dropped pass in practice or in a game," says Grimes, who has committed to Notre Dame and is rated the No. 13 wide receiver in the country by SchoolSports.com. "I only dropped one ball last year, but I'd like to catch every ball thrown my way."
"I did about 200 push-ups last year, and my goal this year is to not do any," says Russell, who is rated the nation's No. 4 receiver and No. 37 overall recruit by SchoolSports.com and had narrowed his list of colleges to LSU, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State and North Carolina as of press time.
That dedication to catching the ball has helped both players put up some big numbers. Last season, Grimes caught 22 passes for 395 yards and eight touchdowns while Russell hauled in 20 receptions for 570 yards and five touchdowns to lead De Porres to the Division 8 state title with a 20-9 win over Beal City in the championship game.
Grimes was particularly effective in the state final, catching an 80-yard touchdown pass as the Eagles won their record-tying 12th state title overall (Farmington Hills Harrison also has 12) — a remarkable feat for a school that faces a myriad of obstacles.
De Porres, which is located in Detroit, is a co-ed school that had an enrollment of only 210 students last year. The football program averages about 55 players per season between JV and varsity and doesn't have a stadium to call its own. The Eagles alternate their home games between McCabe Field and Keyworth Stadium, and because both locations are a bus ride away, the team essentially plays on the road every week.
"We're used to always playing on the road," says Carter. "We're used to the crowds."
As if that isn't tough enough, De Porres has a schedule each season that includes a who's who of the state's top teams. The Eagles play in the Detroit Catholic League AA Division, but they also match up against teams from the Catholic League Central Division — schools with much larger enrollments that include last year's Division 1 state champion, Redford Catholic Central, as well as Brother Rice and St. Mary's Prep.
The Eagles' coaching staff has helped the team overcome those obstacles, but it also doesn't hurt to have a large collection of skilled players to teach. In fact, several players who graduated from De Porres last year are now playing college football, including Eric Hines (Michigan State), Carlos Simpson (Cincinnati), Daryl Graham (Michigan Tech) and David's brother, Carl Grimes (Michigan State).
Russell and David Grimes will be next to join that group at the college level.
"They're both real fast and quick and can maneuver in traffic," says Carter. "In Talonnie's case, he's just so good at turning short passes into long gains. David catches the long ball."
All this despite Russell measuring 5-foot-10, 160 pounds and Grimes coming in at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Not exactly Randy Moss or Terrell Owens dimensions. But Carter thinks size is often overhyped when it comes to receivers.
"The big receivers are nice to look at, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're productive," he says.
"We just run precise routes and use our quickness to our advantage," says Grimes. "People have been using my size against me my entire life. I really don't pay much attention to it. I just get the job done because of my routes and my hands."
Even though both players have tremendous talent, Russell and Grimes believe their friendship on and off the field is just as important to their success. They met on the first day of practice freshman year and have been friends ever since.
"We keep each other together on the field," says Russell, who caught 11 passes for 260 yards and five touchdowns in the team's first three games this season. "David could make a play where he's down, and I'll be there to pick him up."
"We can criticize each other and help each other out," adds Grimes, who hauled in nine catches for 175 yards and one TD through the first three games this fall. "It's good knowing that someone else can get the job done and that the other team has to worry about two receivers, not just one."
It's also good knowing that when you have talent like Russell and Grimes, size doesn't matter.
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