The most electrifying man on the 2016 Rutgers football roster is back. By the first kickoff against Washington, Janarion Grant plans to be better than ever.
Grant developed a knack for making things better in a struggling offense. His fifth season focuses upon more complete production at wide receiver.
“It was my senior year and I'm trying to make the most of it,” Grant said. “Going down with an injury in the fourth game of the season, it was just crazy and tragic. I couldn't believe it. I'd never been through a leg injury like that before. It hit me hard.”
Face facts. In a mere three-and-a-half games, Grant represented 10 percent of the program's total yards from scrimmage on the season. Grant scored five of Rutgers'23 touchdowns in 2016.
Unfinished business brought Grant back for a fifth season at Rutgers. From the teenager that went for 100 yards in Fresno, Calif., on his first-career touch to the frustrated 22-year old that left 2016 on a cart, Grant was not ready to call it a college career.
“It's very important for this season,” Grant said. “Every season is different. Every season is new. We have guys coming in, younger guys, so we've just got to teach them what to do and being able to stay healthy.”
Grant briefly considered NFL options but December conversations with family and coaches convinced him to return.
“I knew, just from experiences seeing other people, once you get hurt, they think differently about you,” Grant said. “They're going to want you to come back another year and be that same person. I really had that thought. I just needed to see if I wanted to leave or stay and just take that chance.”
Grant broke his ankle at the end of a near-touchdown run against Iowa in the fourth game of the season. Cornerback Desmond King chased Grant down in what became a painful collision near the goal line.
“What I can remember is, of course, the big play that I made by making the defender miss and getting down to the 3-yard line,” Grant said. “Then (I was) just feeling that pain. It was just crazy. I felt like (it was) a real bad ankle sprain. I'm like, 'alright, I should be good.' Just get it taped up, maybe have to chill out for a bit. Then, once I got up and started to take that first step, I knew it was kind of off. It felt like it was broken. In my head I was like, 'no, it can't be.'”
Grant underwent surgery after the injury. He went through spring in a limited capacity, primarily individual drills during non-contact periods.
“(He is) no different than anybody that’s coming back from injury,” said wide receiver coach Jafar Williams. “You’re going to have the great days, and you’re going to have the not-so-great days. But for the most part, I’m happy with his attitude throughout the offseason, and he’s a real big part of with what we do offensively. So he’s been great in our room and he’s a daily force in our room.”
While Grant wants to be a better complete receiver, his focus is only on what he can control during the recovery process.
“I'm really focusing on flexibility, pain tolerance, seeing how hard I can go with whatever I'm doing whether it be with wide receiver indy drills or just catching balls or whatever,” Grant said. “It's going pretty well.”
Former offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer used Grant as a focal point. New play-caller Jerry Kill has Grant excited about similar possibilities.
“I think he understands each and every one of us in the offense,” Grant said. “Just putting players in the right places at the right time and that's what I love about him. … I'm trying to be everywhere – defense, offense, it doesn't even matter. I'm trying to just get back on the field and make it happen for our team.”
Kill marks Grant's fifth offensive coordinator in five years.
“It was really crazy,” Grant said. “I couldn't believe it. We were going through so many changes through the years. It really wasn't stable. I'm like, 'OK, we've got a new coach coming in.' I'm going to see what he's like. I've been hearing he was a head coach for like 24 years. He has a lot of experience under his belt. I'm pretty sure he's dealt with a lot of players through his lifetime.”