ATHENS, Ga. -- Quincy Carter says he teases Charles Grant every day about being "The Man," the savior who will lead the Georgia Bulldogs into the next millennium.
"I say, `Ha ha, you're in my shoes now,"' the Bulldog quarterback laughs.
But the scariest thing about the Charles Grant Phenomenon, which reached a fever pitch early in fall practice, is that the level of expectation for Grant at this point is much higher than it was for Carter a year ago. Yes, Carter is being pushed as a Heisman Trophy candidate now, but keep in mind that 365 days ago, he was merely one of four talented quarterbacks vying for the starting role -- he didn't even practice with the first team until the week of the season opener.
Grant, on the other hand, is already being talked about as a starter, on offense and defense. Granted, much of that chatter has come from fans. Georgia coach Jim Donnan has been liberal in his praise for the 6-foot-4, 264-pound freshman, but he hasn't anointed him the best player on the planet. Donnan also hasn't closed the door on that subject, either.
His most-repeated statement on Grant to this point came during a recent interview with an Atlanta radio station. The show's hosts hadn't asked Donnan about Grant during the conversation, so Donnan wrapped up with a statement that may be gracing bumper stickers around the Peach State by midseason: "I'm going to leave you guys with two words: Charles Grant."
The sentence set the Bulldog Nation into a frenzy; it was posted on the Internet by giddy fans within minutes and rehashed for days. Donnan always has been a proponent of raising his players' public profiles -- he went out of his way to praise Champ Bailey throughout last season, looking ahead to the two-way standout's NFL draft status. But such high praise for a player who hadn't, at that time, even worked out against the varsity yet?
Strangely, Donnan's enthusiasm produced a backlash; fans have written and called to chastise the coach for putting too much pressure on the 20-year-old prodigy from Miller County, by way of Hargrave Military Academy. The complaints clearly have annoyed Donnan, who refuses to apologize for what he has said.
No, Grant doesn't have the pure speed of the rest of Georgia's backs, but coaches say he has been clocked below 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Keep in mind here that Hines Ward was generally timed between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds when he was in college -- and Grant is 4 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than the current Pittsburgh Steelers wideout.
In high school, Grant tied Herschel Walker's single-season state record of 45 touchdowns as a senior in 1997, when he amassed 3,472 all-purpose yards. As a linebacker, he made 102 tackles, had two interceptions and recovered three fumbles.
"The first time I saw him, I was driving in to my office and Miller County was here for our team camp," Donnan recalled about the summer of 1997. "They were getting off the bus, and here comes this young guy getting off the bus, and I said, `Whoa!' That was right before his senior year. I'll never forget that."
Georgia recruited Grant as hard as anyone else in that class, but despite his other-worldly physical skills, he had one major drawback -- there was essentially no chance that he would qualify academically. So when signing day rolled around in February 1998, Grant didn't officially send in his letter of intent along with classmates such as Boss Bailey and William Witherspoon.
It was weeks later before Grant made official his intentions to come to Georgia, but the university didn't even publicize the signing. In the fall, Grant headed off to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, where he worked hard on academics while also playing generous minutes at fullback and linebacker.
Grant was a success on the field, surprising no one, but his progress in the classroom served as a comeuppance to those who said he didn't have the mental toughness to get the job done academically.
On April 2, right in the middle of spring practice, Donnan received word that Grant had received a qualifying score on his SAT, and the celebration was on. Donnan was finally able to welcome an athlete he called "one of the best players in 30 years that I've ever recruited" to the fold.
"It was hard, but (Georgia's coaches) stuck by me, they've never let me down, they've never said you aren't going to make it," said Grant. "I had other people tell me I wasn't going to make it, but the good Lord was on my side. I went up to Hargrave and applied myself and got my score."
With the grades came the expectations. Grant walked into a defensive front seven that Donnan has repeatedly called the best he's had at Georgia, and has made an impact immediately. Grant will push Terin Smith, David Jacobs, Dustin Luckie and Demetric Evans for playing time at defensive end -- a position he has never played before.
"I don't let it go to my head," he said. "I'm humbled by it, but you've got to live up to the stuff. I've been playing football for a long time now, so I'm pretty used to it. All I can do is go out there and give it my all."
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