Ohio State linebacker Larry Grant was the 2005 Junior College Player of the Year after an impressive season for City College in San Francisco. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was so impressed that he made Grant the first JUCO transfer player he's added to the Buckeyes roster.
And Grant didn't disappoint. He reported for his junior year at Ohio State and immediately showed the defensive and special teams skills that brought him fame at the junior college level, blocking a punt against Northwestern while appearing in 12 games and earning one start. During his senior year, he was the starting strongside linebacker for the Big Ten Champions and blocked a punt and a field goal.
The 6-foot-1, 234-pound linebacker is drawing plenty of interest from NFL teams already, as I reported in this feature for Scout.com subscribers. While Grant is preparing for the NFL Combine this month, it's not the only reason February marks an important milestone in his life. He talked to me about his college career, his skills that will help him take the next step to the pro level, and why this is such a big month for him on a professional and personal level during this exclusive interview.
Ed Thompson: What was it like making the transition from junior college to Ohio State University?
Larry Grant blocks a punt against Northwestern.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Larry Grant: The transition was different. Coming from junior college to Division-I football — especially Ohio State-caliber football. The transition for football was actually a lot faster. I was around a lot more athletes than in junior college — bigger offensive line, faster. We had some pretty fast receivers and running backs in our school, but not too many I played against were as tough as here. I made the transition pretty well I think.
Thompson: What was it like coming out of the tunnel for the first time into a stadium the size of Ohio State's?
Grant: It was crazy. I was actually tingling on the inside. My first time wasn't even an actual game, it was the spring game. I had never played in front of 55- to 70,000 people in my life. I didn't know what to do. My adrenaline was pumping like crazy. And the first actual game I played, man, I never knew a stadium could get so loud.
Thompson: One of your trademark skills is your speed, and in 2005 you blocked six punts and one this past season against Northwestern. You also blocked a field goal against Washington. What makes you so successful? Lots of guys are fast, but you don't see them blocking kicks as often as you do.
Grant: My coaches in junior college put me in the right position to block field goals and I gained a knack for it, doing it in practice a lot. They also put me in the position to go one-on-one with a tackle or a wing. It's about angle and ball awareness, especially with blocking field goals. You have to know where he's going to try to kick the ball. I believe my angle and me just having the awareness to know that he's on the left hash, so he's going to have to kick the ball to the right. So it's just angles and awareness.
Thompson: Talk about your skill in getting off blocks against guys much bigger than you and your ability to stay focused on the ball while mixing it up with them.
Grant: In junior college, my linebacker coach emphasized getting off blocks and staying low and using your hands. Out in San Francisco I did a lot with using my hands and getting off blocks as fast as I can. And when I came here, Coach tried to get the best out of me. He made everything harder for me to prepare me for the bigger guys I was going against. Using my hands is actually one of the best attributes that I have.
Thompson: You have a very well-rounded game and you have experience at all three linebacker spots. Is that what you think will be your strongest selling point to NFL teams?
Grant: Yeah, I think me being versatile and being able to play inside the box and outside of the box and pass rush is going to help me out a lot. Hopefully I can finally showcase my talent and with everybody getting to see what I can do, it will keep me moving up in the draft and will come out for the best in late April.
Thompson: Do you see yourself fitting into a Cover-2 scheme with your speed?
Larry Grant returns an interception against Northern Illinois in 2006.
AP Photo/Terry Gilliam
Grant: Honestly I don't see myself just being marked down as a Cover-2 speedy linebacker. I can play any defense in the NFL because of my ability to learn defenses and my versatility to be able to play inside the box with the bigger linemen or outside in space with some receivers and tight ends. I believe my ability to do that can help out a lot. And I'm trying to play safety now, so just trying to learn all three linebacker positions and safety can help me a lot.
Thompson: What's the difference between playing inside and outside the box from a technical standpoint? There aren't a lot of guys who are effective at both.
Grant: Just learning from some of the best. They teach me that playing inside, you have to be able to under-key the offensive linemen while also reading your keys in the backfield. You have to be able to see a lineman coming off a zone block into the second level and be able to play both keys. Outside of the box you have to be able to read run and pass fast. If you can read run fast and get downhill and be able to react to the pass, that can help you a lot.
Thompson: What are you doing to prepare for the Combine?
Grant: I'm training at Ohio State. I have a baby on the way, due in February. It's a little boy, his name is Isaiah, from the Bible — Isaiah Dupre Grant. So I'm training here at Ohio State with our strength and conditioning trainer.
Thompson: So February is a big month for you...
Grant: Yeah. My birthday is on the 16th of February, I have the Combine in February, I have the baby coming in February, it's a real big month.
Thompson: Is your baby due close to the Combine?
Grant: Actually my son is due February 23rd (during the Combine), but the way my girl is looking and feeling we think the baby is going to come a little early — the doctor said so as well.
Thompson: Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans as we wrap up this interview?
Grant: Just that I want to give all of the glory to God and say thank you to all of the fans for their support in junior college and at Ohio State University. I appreciate everything, and hopefully I can continue my success and I'll still have my college football fans as NFL football fans as I go forward.