Grant: 'It's my time'

After losing Etienne Sabino, the Ohio State football team was in dire need of identifying a playmaking linebacker this spring. Curtis Grant, who lost his starting spot three games into last season, could finally be emerging as the player most figured he'd be coming out of high school as a five-star prospect. Will he hold onto this spot this time? He thinks so.

A five-star recruit with the notoriety that came with being one of the country's most coveted prospects, Curtis Grant all but assumed he'd be the perfect candidate to slip into Ohio State's linebacker rotation as a freshman.

With what already appeared to be an NFL body, Grant got to Ohio State and was met with a realization that wasn't true while he was dominating the game in high school – it takes a lot more than physical prowess to star at linebacker in the Big Ten.

It was a tough lesson to swallow during his freshman season in 2011, a time where Grant instead spent the entire year on the bench quietly contemplating whether transferring would be his best option.

"Who wouldn't be discouraged?" defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "I don't care what (recruiting services) rank you – who comes here that doesn't have the idea that they're going to be the next James Laurinaitis at linebacker?"

Grant fought through the pain by adjusting to life on the bench for the first time, and he entered last spring's drills determined to not relive his freshman season. It seemed to work, because by the time last spring was over Grant was named the team's starting middle linebacker.

But that revelation was short-lived, as Grant spent on three games in Ohio State's starting lineup during his sophomore season before being replaced. Grant didn't fight his way back onto the field, even after an injury to senior Etienne Sabino. Instead, Zach Boren was forced to switch over from offense to fill the vacancy.

Grant again was faced with a tough decision: transfer, or fight to earn the spot he once thought would be his.

"Either you man up or get out," Grant said. "It's pretty straight forward – I manned up."

Ask a new person for a reason Grant didn't earn a spot on the field during his first two seasons at Ohio State, and you'll like get a different answer. The most popular explanation was that he struggled to thoroughly understand the core concepts of the defense, which in turn made him slow to react.

Though Grant admits understanding the defense was a problem, he said it was his complacent nature that stopped him from work hard to keep his position once it was earned.

"I didn't get into it like I should have," Grant said. "Last year, it just seemed rushed."

This spring felt like déjà vu for Grant as he again tried to earn a starting spot. This time, however, Ohio State needed the light to turn on.

That's because the 6-3, 225-pound Grant was an integral piece to the linebacker competition after the team lost Sabino and was missing the position's only returning starter in Ryan Shazier while he recovered from surgery to heal a sports hernia.

Grant was forced to lead sophomores Joshau Perry and Camren Williams, and Fickell noticed something from Grant that had been absent the last two years. And because it returned, Grant again found himself as a starter at the culmination of spring practice.

"You see guys, when they go through struggles mentally and physically, with everything that's thrown on their plate, they can lose that passion and energy," Fickell said of Grant, who led all tacklers in OSU's spring game with eight in addition to a sack. "With a guy like Curtis, where that's one of his biggest strengths, you saw him struggling the last couple of years.

"But you saw that come back – you saw him love to play the game and you saw his passion and energy. For all the things that he needs to work on, when he is on the field and when he's playing like that with that passion and energy, those things shine above the things he really needs to work on."

The mission for Grant is to do what he wasn't able to do a year ago – hold onto the position. Grant doesn't seem to think that will be a problem this time.

"Now it seems like it just fell into place," Grant said. "Everything happens for a reason, and I feel like the reason all that stuff happened to me last year was to prepare me for this year. I guess it is maturity and seeing what is really important and not getting complacent.

"It's my time."

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