Originally created 03/17/04

Local celebration lets Augusta native relive his childhood



Deon Grant gave a perfectly inspirational speech to the students at T.W. Josey High School on Wednesday. Then the Eagles alum went back to the podium a few minutes after he had finished with a little more to say.

"I grew up dodging drugs, dodging bullets and dodging police coming from Sunset and from Hyde Park," Grant said. "There is more to life than that if you listen to what your teachers and coaches have to say and believe in yourself."

When his second mini-speech was done, it wasn't long before he grabbed the microphone again. Grant had more words. The kind that can only spill from the heart, not note cards.

"There is never enough time when I speak around my community," Grant said afterward. "I had so much to say today but we were on a tight schedule and I couldn't get it all out."

Grant's appearance was part of a whirlwind tour of stops that were all part of Deon Grant Day in Augusta. It was supposed to be a day for autographs, appreciation, hugs and smiles for an NFL veteran preparing for his fifth season.

But this proved more than a day to welcome home a native son with very proud arms. The chorus at Josey put together a heartfelt performance of a Grant favorite on a day's notice. They sang Wind Beneath my Wings while he looked at a Josey scrapbook. That was when the 25-year-old multimillionaire shed tears.

"Making all that money doesn't prepare me for speaking today," Grant said. "I was trying to hold back tears looking through that scrapbook and seeing dear people that have passed on that were so much like family to me. I couldn't do it. Being around Josey just brings chills. It stirs up memories I have that are a lot deeper than going to any Super Bowl."

Debbie Horres remembered when she taught Grant at Murphey Middle School during his appearance in front of the eighth-grade class earlier in the day.

"Deon was part of a group of boys at Murphey that would open the door for you," Horres said. "If I was carrying a box, he'd want to carry it for me."

Jerimiah Joseph, 14, waited in line for an autograph and called Grant a "role model for real life in Augusta."

Classmate Keith Crump agreed as he tried to inch his way up in line.

"Deon kept his head up to make a future for himself," Crump said. "He's positive. We can relate to him."

Grant recently agreed to a three-year deal in excess of $10 million dollars with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He turned down more money from the Cleveland Browns to stay closer to home.

When he was about to leave, Grant decided his busy itinerary would have to wait. He sought out a section of wheelchair-bound students who had no chance of breaking the mob which enveloped him with photo and autograph requests.

"I can't leave yet," Grant said to a group of friends who traveled with him. "I've got to go over here and see these kids. I have to."

A sign that welcomed him to the Josey campus said Grant was already one in a million when he left Augusta. That gesture showed he hadn't changed.

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.