Of the former Josey football players who have reached the NFL, perhaps the one who appreciates Deon Grant’s latest opportunity the most is the one who’s never been to the Super Bowl.
“It’s probably big wonders of emotions because he’s been to the Super Bowl before and tasted defeat,” said Raleigh Roundtree, who played seven seasons as an offensive lineman with the Chargers and Cardinals from 1997-2003. “A lot of players like myself played all those years and never even got close to the Super Bowl. For him to have a second shot at winning the Super Bowl I think is a big deal.”
Grant, a safety with the New York Giants, is trying to become the third former Josey player to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team, joining tight end Jimmie Johnson (1991 with the Redskins) and linebacker Arnold Harrison (2006 with the Steelers). His Giants face the New England Patriots tonight in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Grant’s Carolina Panthers lost to the Patriots eight years ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.
“If I win that ring, it’ll be huge for that Eagle pride,” said the former Josey star.
Roundtree understands how much their alma mater means to Grant. He’s been teaching and coaching at Josey since retiring from football in 2008 and sees what a visible presence Grant remains in his hometown.
“He never shies away from being around,” Roundtree said. “He’s just a good guy and always doing something for the kids.”
Roundtree got to know Grant when he would work out with members of the Josey team during offseason visits home from South Carolina State. As a player who made it to college and was on his way to be a fourth-round draft pick by San Diego in 1997, Roundtree took it upon himself to try to nurture players with the potential to follow his path out of Augusta.
“Him going to Josey, I felt it was my job to come to him rather than him have to come to me,” Roundtree said. “It means a lot because the kids get to see another athlete that’s come out and been successful. We always tell them that it doesn’t make a difference where you come from, but when you actually see it – that somebody that went to the same school they went to and walked the same halls they did – they can actually get a grasp of what can be done as opposed to just hearing it and never seeing the result of it.”
Roundtree admires that quality in Grant, who makes a concerted effort to be an example for high school students when he comes home every offseason.
Grant is often seen at Eagles basketball games and gets his hands dirty illustrating techniques at summer camps run by Harrison or former coach John Starr.
When Grant isn’t playing in the Super Bowl, he returns to the annual All-Area Football Banquet to present the player of the year award that bears his name. He announced this year’s recipient, Brendan Douglas of Aquinas, via video Thursday night.
“The most important thing for me is to come home and rub shoulders with these kids so they can see that it’s real,” Grant said. “You can give money from a distance and they don’t see it. I want to come to those Josey games and let a kid see me when he’s playing basketball. Let them ask whatever questions they need to ask for them to be successful. I think it’s just natural in me seeing how hard I grew up. That was absent in my life, so I try to do as much as I can to be there for those kids.”
Faith and values
Grant has been generous to his hometown. Every year, he gives laptop computers to the 15 to 25 Josey students who make the National Honor Society. He helps sponsor Josey’s renowned band, the Sonic Boom of the South. He’s even stepped in to help rival Laney financially when needed.
None of that surprises his mother, Joyce Wright, whose faith taught her it’s better to give than receive.
“God said I bless you so that you can be a blessing to others,” said Wright, who lives in Martinez. “That means we have to pass the blessing along. I don’t think he feels obligated to anybody, but he knows the struggle he had to endure not having. If God has blessed him, why not pass it on?”
Grant said he gets all of his values from his mother and grandmother, Ruthie Daniels, who both raised him in the southside Augusta projects and helped steer him away from trouble.
“The way my mom is so grounded, you’d never know her son is a multimillionaire,” Grant said. “She’s so humble it’s crazy.”
Wright, who attended her son’s first Super Bowl but will watch this one from home, believes something higher is at work giving her son a second Super Bowl chance 12 years after a broken hip in his rookie training camp was expected to end his pro career before it even started. Grant has played in 186 consecutive games since.
“I do believe it because I’m a believer,” she said. “Again, we’re talking faith and belief in the God that we serve. He’s never failed us, and he must have had a plan. I’ve seen Deon injured before and seen miraculous things happen in his life because of his faith in God. Twelve years later, God said I’m not through with him yet.”
Always an Eagle
Roundtree was impressed that Grant got one shot at the Super Bowl with Carolina, which he played against in 2003 while with Arizona. That Grant has stuck around eight more years to get a second chance is incredible.
“It’s a big shot for him to have two opportunities at it, and I hope he makes the best of it,” Roundtree said. “People probably don’t give him the credit he deserves. He’s played through injuries and had surgery last year on his shoulder and came back. I think it’s outstanding myself. It’s a testament to him for staying awhile and being on some good teams.”
Roundtree’s retired Josey jersey is on display at the school’s gym with pictures and mementos from Grant’s 1995 state championship team.
Roundtree is a daily reminder of what kids from Josey can achieve, teaching weight training and personal fitness while serving as offensive coordinator and line coach for the Eagles. He’s trying to help restore a culture of winning football that’s been gone since the late 1990s.
“I think some of the kids are trying to grasp it now,” Roundtree said. “I try to instill that in them every day.”
Grant hopes to do the same one day when his football career is behind him.
“I want to go back home and grab them youngsters that’s not playing ball and displaying all the talent that God has blessed them with and let them know how easy it is to get themselves out of situations by focusing on one good thing,” he said. “That’s what’s lacking right now.”
For now, he tries to remain an inspiration.
“Everything I do, people know I represent that green and gold,” he said. “I might help Laney or go and speak at Glenn Hills or Butler, but I bleed green and gold. And every time I go out there and do something positive, I’m representing the Eagles. I’d like them to know that’s one of ours out there.”