This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
DeMarcus Granger is most comfortable an hour or so drive southeast of Dallas in Fairfield. That's where his 90-something-year-old paternal great-grandmother, Sugar Mama, owns a small piece of land with a few cows and a couple of bulls. Granger is in his element there.
After feeding the livestock and putting the cattle out to pasture, he'll ease himself into a porch chair, shuffle a deck of cards and play spades for hours with Sugar Mama. All the while, he gets a chuckle out of watching the cows and the life they lead.
"They're out there just living it up," says Kimball's 6-foot-3, 310-pound senior defensive tackle, who is rated the nation's No. 6 defensive lineman and the No. 26 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com.
Granger is the first to tell you he's got it pretty good, too. Especially with fans like his maternal grandfather, Woodrow Manning, who has attended every game except one dating back to Granger's middle school playing days.
Clearly, Granger has paid attention during those long hours in the company of old-school folks. That would certainly explain his exemplary attitude.
"I'm one of few people that doesn't let all the attention and praise get to their head," says Granger, who turned 18 on Sept. 4. "You've got to be yourself in interviews. Just like the first interview I ever did after a second-round playoff win over Sherman my sophomore year. I made a key sack in the final minutes and I told that reporter, ‘If it wasn't for the great offensive line we have drilling me in practice every week, I wouldn't have made that play.' And I meant it."
If you remember anything about DeMarcus Granger — aside from the fact that he's one of the nation's most explosive, uncontainable defensive linemen — remember that he is genuine. As down to earth as down to earth can be.
"He doesn't know any different, any better or anything else," says Kimball fourth-year head coach Darrell Jordan, 49. "He's a hard hat and lunch pail guy. Like he's going to work at a steel mill. It's the only thing he has to revert to. As a player, he's so fast coming off the football and so strong. Not only that, he can run north, south, east and west. And for as big as he is, he just doesn't get tired."
So Granger has a sound mind and a sound body. But what about his heart? To answer that question, let's rewind to last year's playoff loss to Texarkana in the Class 4A, Division I regional finals.
Late in the fourth quarter, Granger was helped off the field with what looked like a season-ending ankle injury, involuntary tears streaming down his face. A choked-up Jordan hugged Granger and thanked him for a great season. But two snaps later, as Texarkana lined up for a game-icing, 4th-and-inches conversion with 2:47 to play, Jordan looked up from his clipboard in time to watch Granger — who subbed in unbeknownst to most of the coaching staff — stuff a run to give the Knights the ball back.
Texarkana held on to win, 12-11, but the tale remains unforgettable.
"That really stands out," says Jordan. "He's a competitor. He's going to compete."
Compete, for sure. And likely dominate. As a junior, Granger relentlessly pursued the football to rack up 68 tackles, 17 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
There is a subtle difference between a great player and a great playmaker. One does a lot to help you win games. The other does the same, but also contributes freeze-frame instants of skill that games turn upon. Granger has always been the latter, though he says his playmaking is different now.
"In middle school, it was about being at the right place at the right time," says Granger, who is wide open on his college decision but has been offered scholarships by schools such as LSU, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M. "In high school, I've taken it to a different level. Half the time, I'm making those kinds of plays in high school because I've seen something on film. In the morning, at lunch and after school, I'm part of a group of guys who watch film. Now I'm making plays because I know where the play is going to go."
Still, it wasn't until his third day of varsity practice during the preseason of his sophomore year that Granger knew for sure he wanted to be a football player. In a one-on-one drill against one of the Knights' returning All-Area offensive linemen, Granger ripped off a swim move, shed the block and made a tackle for a loss.
"I figured if I could do that to him as a sophomore, then I could really play," recalls Granger, who also competes in the shot put (career-best 56 feet, 9 inches) and discus (186 feet) during track and field season.
Granger, the second oldest of four children, is not naïve enough to think all his football memories will be rosy ones. He says his girlfriend hears the critics in the crowd during the season. And he hears it from the doubters in the hallways.
"People in the crowd say stuff like I think I'm all that because all these scouts come to see me play," says Granger. "Well, the scouts are watching the other guys, too. It's a chance for them to make a name for themselves. Then, the first thing I hear in school if we lose a game is, ‘DeMarcus, what happened out there?' Well, the answer is: You'll never know because you weren't out there."
Chatter like that makes Granger envy those Fairfield cattle. Big bodies just moseying around, grazing all day. But there's nothing like a good game of spades to take your mind off things. That is, until it comes time for Granger to do his own grazing — on quarterbacks and ballcarriers.
Yeah, Granger is the first to tell you: He's got it pretty good, too.