We Need To Remember the Vernon Grants

The Oklahoma State family was put in a state of shock Tuesday morning as news circulated that senior cornerback Vernon Grant was killed in an automobile accident in Dallas. Dead, there is such finality to that word. My sincere hope, and I'm confident it will be reality, is that Vernon Grant won't die.

Through his memory his spirit will live on. We can all learn from Vernon. He was just 22 years old but he left us a lot. Examples of enthusiasm and passion and what can be accomplished with those two emotions. That a smile is always preferable to a frown, and much more is accomplished with a smile. Oh how Vernon love to smile.

Marilyn Middlebrook told me a story this morning that summed up Vernon Grant. The assistant athletic director for student-athlete affairs and academics said last summer she was shocked when she came into the office last July, just one day after Vernon Grant's mother had been laid to rest, only to find Grant back on campus and working on getting his academic schedule set for the fall semester.

"At our front desk in the Academic offices I told Vernon that he didn't need to be back here so quick," said Middlebrook. "He just looked at me and said, ‘Miss Marilyn, life has to go on.' Vernon was very close to his mother and lost her suddenly. Was he hurting that day? There was no doubt about it. But that's the way Vernon was, always smiling, always moving forward. His mother taught him that. He was always looking for the positive and always looking to get things done."

Vernon Grant was one of the good ones. That's not to say they are few in number; there are a lot of great young men that play college football. There are a lot of terrific young men and women that are collegiate student-athletes. However, too many times those of us in the media choose to spend more time talking about the few that make mistakes. It's not an Oklahoma State thing. It happens at Texas, OU, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and all over the nation. A few get discussed and the best examples of the majority of student-athletes get little or no mention. Vernon Grant just happened to be the best of the best. A young man who made right choices, had the right attitude, and tried to inspire others to do the same. It's time to start spending more time talking about the good ones.

Knowing Vernon Grant was to know him on the football field, but nowhere near complete without knowing him off the field and in the classroom. Vernon didn't miss classes. He established relationships with his professors. It's hard not to like a student that walks through the door for each class with a huge smile on his face. Even the grumpiest of instructors can't resist smiling back. Middlebrook said Grant was in and out of her office and Terry Henley's office virtually every day, even though he didn't need to be. Grant was carrying a 3.25 grade point average in engineering. That is no small feat for a starting Division I defensive back with the time demands that come with playing that level of football. He was all about taking care of business and often used that phrase with Middlebrook, Hensley, and his coaches.

Off the field he was as fun loving as any college student could be. He knew how to "chill" and was a master at NCAA Football and Basketball on Sony PlayStation, but he liked to be out and around people. John Talley, the area director for the FCA in north central Oklahoma, talks about how he could always count on Vernon to speak to a group. How he loved speaking to kids and would start off getting them all fired up and having fun and then come back to deliver a serious message about living right, making right decisions, and living a Christian life.

"He was amazing how he would get them so intense and have the kids dancing up and down and then come back and have them listening to a serious message," said Talley. "He really had a gift when it came to communicating with 13, 14, 15 year olds. He could communicate with people of any age. Vernon loved people."

He did, and people loved him, none more than his coaches and teammates. A perfect leader, Vernon Grant had the respect and admiration of all of his teammates.

"He is one guy that I've never heard anybody have a negative word to say about him," added Middlebrook.

That's hard to do on any college campus and on any team. Teams are like families and they have family squabbles, but Vernon was so sincere and so good at interacting with his peers that everybody always thought well of the 5-9, 180-pound teammate. He became a leader on the team as early as his freshman year and he never forgot how older players like Kevin Williams, Greg Richmond, Darrent Williams and Tatum Bell had treated him. He repaid it by doing the same for younger players like Victor DeGrate and Xavier Lawson-Kennedy. Among his classmates -- like linebackers Lawrence Pinson, Pagitte McGee and Paul Duren, safety Jamie Thompson, and longtime teammate at Duncanville High School and OSU Daniel McLemore -- he was respected and admired.

Hcoach Mike Gundy hasn't said what he planned on doing about captains (Les Miles had rotated captains on a game-by-game basis) but if Gundy decides to elect permanent captains, Vernon Grant would have been a unanimous selection. He would have been voted a captain by every player on the squad, defense and offense.

Former Cowboy deep snapper Saul Talley said Grant would show up for early morning conditioning runs with a smile on his face.

"Those were days where I could think of a lot of places I'd rather be," said Talley. "Then here's Vernon, smile on his face, ready to get after it. He kept many of us from complaining because with his attitude how could we?"

On the field Vernon Grant was as good as he was off of it. Just start with the fact that he danced every dance. He introduced himself to his teammates as a freshman by standing up, stating his name and hometown, and then saying, "I don't know what position it will be, but I'm going to be on the field somewhere."

He was too. He started out as a true freshman on special teams but started the final seven games of the 2002 season, including the Houston Bowl, at cornerback. He played in all 13 games as a sophomore, starting all of them at strong safety. He came back and started every one of the 12 games last season at strong safety. There are few players that can say they played in every game in their career. Unfortunately, too soon, Vernon Grant could say that. He didn't just play, but he stood out. That same fire and passion he had for life he really had for football. Former defensive coordinator Bill Clay moved Grant to strong safety because he played so much bigger than his 5-9, 180-pound frame. Blessed with great speed, he ran around throwing his body into opposing ball carriers. Of his career 218 tackles, 167 of them were unassisted. He had no fear. As a strong safety he had to take on blocks from tight ends, offensive tackles and fullbacks. Some of those players outweighed his by as much as 150 pounds, but he relished lining up and beating the big guys. He was good at coverage too. His interception against Texas A&M in the 2002 season helped Oklahoma State win a game in the rain and move toward the first bowl game under Les Miles.

Bill Clay has coached a long time and he loves talking about his players, but he admitted to me several times that he'd never had one like Vernon Grant.

"Vernon Grant makes it fun for me to come to work every morning," said Clay in a tremendous compliment.

Vernon was a talker; not really a trash talker, but a yapper. He was always talking on the field, to his teammates, to the opposing offense. I swear there were games when he talked opposing receivers out of catching the ball. His teammates learned to feed off of it and it gave the defense a little swagger when confidence was in short supply. This spring Grant happily moved back to corner when approached by new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. The new coach and star player hit it off right away. They had something in common, they both liked to talk. It was so obvious that the defenders had a nickname for their new defensive coordinator calling Bedford the "adult V.G."

I don't question God's intentions. I may not like them, but I believe there is a reason. I know Vernon's passing reunited him with his mother, and as I told my wife Tuesday morning when Vernon's death finally started to sink in, "God must have felt there needed to be a little more noise in heaven."

Vernon would make a video collection at the end of every season. He loved editing together all of his highlight plays. It was "The Best of Vernon Grant." He would watch it over and over, relishing in his accomplishments, proud of his effort. Some might consider that cocky, but it was pride. Grant had so much pride in what he did, where he did it, and who he did it with. There is nothing wrong with that. I just hope those tapes are still around. I would love to have one.

With or without video, I will remember Vernon Grant. Like his teammates I have learned from him and need to hold myself accountable to keep his legacy alive. I need to remember that enthusiasm and passion. I need to care about those around me. I need to remember a smile is always better than a frown. I need to always remember to talk about the good ones. If I don't do these things, if we don't all do these things, and if we don't take care of business and keep moving forward then we are doing Vernon Grant's life a disservice. That would be a shame after all the things he taught us in his way too short time with us.

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