Originally created 07/04/99

Grant prepares for 1999 season



He has never absorbed the thundering roar of 85,000 at Sanford Stadium. He hasn't donned the famed silver britches, or even stepped foot on Georgia's practice fields.

Yet, in the farthest reaches of University of Georgia football lore, Charles Grant is already considered a hero. It can happen if you're 6-foot-4, 265 pounds and one of the most celebrated athletes in the state since Herschel Walker.

The 20-year-old Grant has heard the hype, but he isn't listening.

"They can say what they want to say," Grant said recently. "I don't pay attention to any of the talk."

After he notched a qualifying score on the SAT at Hargrave Military Academy in the spring, Grant returned to his home in Colquitt, the small southwestern Georgia town in Miller County, to work and prepare for the 1999 season.

For the past month, he has logged hours for a peanut business in Colquitt "to get some extra money to help my momma pay bills." He said he plans to move to Athens this week.

His arrival is sure to be accompanied by some measure of fanfare. When it was learned last April that Grant met NCAA qualifications, Bulldogs coach Jim Donnan -- a man whose theatrics with the media are typically limited -- couldn't keep the wraps on his emotions.

"This is big news for Georgia football," a giddy Donnan proclaimed at the time. "He's one of the best players in 30 years that I've ever recruited. I'm just excited about it."

And so are legions of Bulldogs followers. On The Dawgvent, an Internet message board devoted to Georgia athletics, rarely does a day pass when Grant's prospects for stardom aren't dreamily bantered about.

Donnan boasted in April that Grant could play linebacker, defensive end or running back this fall. When freshmen report in early August, the coaching staff will evaluate the incoming class and place Grant where he's needed.

Agreed.

"I like what he said," said Grant, who runs 2 1/2 miles each day after rising at 5 a.m. "There's no pressure on me; I just like to play the game of football."

And play it well. In his senior year at Miller County, Grant earned the Class A state player-of-the-year and Parade All-America honors after leading the Pirates in nearly every statistical category on both sides of the ball.

In 1997, he tied Walker's single-season touchdown record with 45 scores and amassed 3,472 all-purpose yards -- including 2,530 on the ground -- and had 102 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries as a linebacker.

Grant signed a letter-of-intent with the Bulldogs early in 1998, but his grades left a lot to be desired -- so much that Georgia left him off its official list of signees last year.

So off Grant went to Hargrave, where he led his team in tackles during its 7-4 season last fall. He also had three scores as a tailback, averaging 8 yards per carry.

"He's an outstanding kid, a rarity," said Hargrave coach Lonnie Messick. "People like him don't come along but every once in a while.

"If you take away his athletic abilities, he's still a super kid."

Few question Grant's athletic abilities. It's the classroom where success hasn't come as easily. Grant said he left Hargrave with discipline he didn't have upon his arrival there.

"That's what Hargrave is all about," said Grant, who scored an 890 on his SAT, 70 points more than he needed. "They teach you how to study.

"Going to Hargrave helped my well-being, spiritual-wise. I met people and it helped me mature a lot and become close to the good Lord. It was really hard not going to college after high school, because I love Georgia, but it was a blessing in disguise."

Grant was home in Colquitt when Brad Lambert, the Bulldogs' linebackers coach, called to tell him he'd qualified. The moment wasn't without its suspense.

"I had just gotten home for spring break," Grant said. "It was a Friday, I'd say about 9 in the morning, and coach Lambert called. I was asleep, so he called back at about 10:30 and told me he had bad news, blah, blah, blah. I was scared.

"Then he said he was just kidding and I had passed."

When he isn't running or lifting weights, Grant performs general labor for Farmers Fertilizer, a peanut company in its 51st year of business.

"He's polite as he can be," said Jerry Grimsley, the company's owner and a lifelong friend of Grant's family. "He's a good kid, and he respects his elders. He just doesn't have all the smarts he needs."

Grant says he's in sufficient shape to play for the Bulldogs this fall.

"Strength is not a factor," he said. "I'm just naturally strong, so I need to work on the mental stuff, like the playbook."

As for a position? No preference. Just put him on the field.

"I want to contribute," he said. "I feel, as long as they teach me to play, I can play fullback and have no regrets. The same with defensive end, the same with linebacker. I'm going to give them what they want in the games.

"I just want to get the same opportunity as everybody else, no matter what year they are. If I beat somebody out, I beat them out."

Larry Williams covers college sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com