S Deon Grant was holding court for the media in front of his locker last week, when suddenly an arm snaked its way through the crowd of reporters and snatched the folded towel resting on Grant’s stool.
Grant, who was in the middle of explaining the turnaround in the Giants defense’s performance, watched in disbelief as his towel disappeared. He interrupted his thought to confront the culprit.
“You take my towel?” Grant asked FB Madison Hedgecock, whose locker is adjacent to his.
“Someone took mine,” Hedgecock responded.
“That mean you take mine?” said Grant with a smile.
“Yeah,” Hedgecock replied, grinning back.
“I’m not a rookie,” Grant replied.
Hedgecock, who with six years of NFL service is no rookie himself, seemed ready to say something back to Grant, but thought better of it and grinned at his teammate and locker room neighbor.
“I’ll go get you one,” he said sheepishly.
“I know it,” Grant said, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh before he went back to finishing his thought for reporters. “I know it.”
Okay, so it’s not quite the same type of ribbing that former P Jeff Feagles used to take from his younger teammates. Grant, an 11-year veteran said he hasn’t come to work to find a box of Depends undergarments in his locker stall or an application to AARP waiting for him.
But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get his share of ribbing. For example, his younger teammates address him as ‘Old School’ given his NFL service. However, Grant said he doesn’t mind the moniker because as he explained it, “It fits me.”
And it’s all good because with the Giants, Grant seems to have found a home.
A BORN LEADER
Deon D’Marquis Grant, born on March 14, 1979 in Augusta, Ga., is the oldest of three children, the only son in a single-parent household. It was through his mother, Joyce Wright, that he learned at an early age what it took to be successful in life.
“My mom was trying to hustle and bustle and work a lot of jobs, so I definitely had to grow up and make sure I set the right example for my younger sisters,” Grant said.
That example was rooted in perseverance and humility, a lesson he learned when he was drafted out of Tennessee in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft by Carolina.
Grant, who had left school in his junior year, said it was very tempting to get down about where he was taken, especially after most of the draft publications and analysts projected him to go in the first round. so when his stick slipped and he fell to Carolina in the second round (57th overall), the 6-2, 207 lb. defender responded the only way he knew how – he emulated what he learned from his mother.
He went right to work to prove that he should have been a top ten, no, make that top five pick.
“What my mom taught me,” he said, “is that you have to be very strong and humble yourself, and not get beside yourself if something doesn’t go your way.
“My mom is the heart of the family,” he added. “She’s always worked hard, been the go-getter, and she doesn’t want any credit for it. That’s me. That’s who I was then, and that’s who I am now.”
A SECOND CHANCE
After spending the 2001-2003 seasons in Carolina, where he began his consecutive games started streak,, Grant moved on to Jacksonville, where he continued his tough, durable play making as a starter in the Jaguars defensive backfield for three seasons.
It was after his stint with the Jaguars, when Grant, a free agent, saw his career took an interesting turn. Highly coveted at the time, Grant was heavily courted by several teams — except for the one team he was hoping might have an interest in him.
That team was of course the Giants, and when they didn’t even bother to contact him, Grant negotiated a contract with the Seahawks and had flown across the country to iron out some remaining details before signing.
However, at the last minute, the Giants called, which put Grant into a bit of a bind.
“I really wanted to come here,” he said. “Had it been a situation where I hadn’t gone to Seattle and New York would have called me before, hands down I would have been here.”
Having agreed in principle with the Seahawks, Grant inked his new deal, and went on to spend three seasons he spent with Seattle, all as a defensive captain as he grew his streak to 144 consecutive starts.
In 2009, what turned out to be his final year with the Seahawks, Grant said he saw the handwriting on the wall about his future with the team.
“I kind of expected it,” he said when Seattle terminated his contract, citing the change in management and coaching as just part of the reason for his release. “I told the guys before our last game, ‘Let’s make the best of it because you never know when your next game is going to come. This is going to be my last game playing with y’all so let’s go out there, have some fun, and play hard.’”
BACK WHERE HE WAS MEANT TO BE
While Grant said he understands why Seattle let him go, he admitted that he wished they had done so as soon as the 2009 season ended. “After they got their new head coach (Pete Carroll), he knew that whole system was going to change and that I didn’t fit into it.”
Instead, he was released on March 15 – a day after his 31st birthday. As his luck would have it, Grant wasn’t out of work for long as he signed with the Giants on April 1.
Before he inked his one-year, $1.38M Giants contract, which included an $855K base salary(a significant pay cut from the $4M he was due to make under the terms of his previous contract with Seattle), Grant had a decision to make.
“You know how you feel like some things are destined to happen?” he asked. “I had an opportunity to go to another team – Chicago and Dallas were just two of the teams were interested in me. In fact, one of my favorite coaches (Cowboys defensive assistant Dave Campo, who was Grant’s position coach for two seasons in Jacksonville) is in Dallas.
“New York had put something on the table and Dallas came a little late with the whole Ken Hamlin thing,” he added. “I chose New York because I think it said a lot that after things didn’t work out the first time, that they still wanted me despite the fact I was older and was coming off wrist surgery.”
The one thing that the Giants couldn’t promise Grant, however, was a starting spot in the defense being assembled by new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. That’s because the Giants had just signed another free agent, Antrel Rolle to a lucrative contract, and they were cautiously optimistic that their young, promising safety, Kenny Phillips, who the year before lost most of his second season due to a knee injury requiring microfracture surgery, would be able to return to the field as a starter.
Grant credits the Giants front office for being up front with him about what he was getting into. In turn, he also was up front with the Giants by telling them in no uncertain terms that he believed that he was still a NFL-quality starter.
In the end, any reservations either side might have had about the other were worked out. The Giants got Grant at their price, and Grant, who was told that he’d have a “significant role” in the defense, finally signed on the dotted line with the team he had fantasized about playing the last time he was looking for work.
A BEACON OF LIGHT
Besides his outstanding play this season, what Grant has brought to the Giants is leadership – he’s not to afraid to speak his mind despite being a “new guy” in the locker room (“I’ve been around 11 years – I ain’t exactly new,” he quipped.)
He has also proven to be a savior of sorts as far as Fewell is concerned. That’s because when Fewell was first hired, he began toying with the idea of having a three-safety package that could be used on every down, unlike in previous years under former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who employed a three-safety look in pass rushing situations.
Fewell’s vision very nearly ended up on the cutting room floor after rookie third-round draft pick Chad Jones, whom the coaches envisioned as being that third safety, was severely injured in a car crash.
So in stepped Grant, initially considered to be the insurance policy in case Phillips’ knee didn’t hold up. Grant has made that spot his own, and has particularly enjoyed success lining up as a pseudo linebacker that gives New York a distinct advantage in personnel matchups.
“You guys remember back when we won it all in 2007, we had three safeties on the field?” said safeties coach David Merritt. “Now, we’ve created a package where we can have them on the field first, second, and third down whereas a couple of years ago it was just on third down when we put the three safeties on the field.”
Despite not being listed as a starter, Grant has played in 296 defensive snaps this season, most of them coming in coverage. Starters Phillips and Rolle have taken 400 and 437 snaps respectively.
Besides his play on the field – Grant has 28 tackles (18 solo), one sack, two interceptions, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries – he has also shared his knowledge with his younger teammates, especially the cornerbacks, a position he played earlier in his career.
“I see it all when I’m back there,” he said. “I’ll be doing what I’m supposed to do and I’ll see the cornerback do something and I’ll go over there and try to help him out so he’s in a better position.
“I’m not saying I know it all, but if I see something and I have the knowledge to be of help, I’ll go over and help him out, because that’s what happened when I was a young player and these are things that helped me make it to an eleventh season.”
Grant said he probably talks to the corners more than he does the safeties. “I know how to play safety,” he said. “In the corner position, I watch them a lot more because they’re on the island, and I don’t want no big running back coming at them at full speed with them being out of position.
“Can’t have my guys looking foolish,” he added.
A 'QWEST' FOR ANOTHER VICTORY
On Sunday, Grant and his 5-2 teammates will pay a visit to the traditionally unfriendly Qwest Field, a place that Grant once called his home on Sundays in the fall.
While it would certainly be understandable if he were to have thoughts of revenge when he sets foot on the turf for the first time since January 3, 2010, Grant just shook his head at the suggestion.
“I don't have any bad feelings toward (Seattle),” he said. "They gave me an opportunity when I was a free agent, and they paid me a lot of money.”
However, that doesn’t mean that he’s going to take it easy on his former teammates.
"We're going to go up there, get a victory, and give them hell,” he promised.