The following is an updated article that appeared in Tiger Insider magazine this summer.
Two winters ago, Kelvin Grant had a basketball teammate roll out a three-tiered ball rack and place it on the foul lane. The lightly used Camden High School reserve forward then proceeded to take several steps back, get a running start, jump over the obstacle and then flushed down a dunk which brought the crowd at Watauga High School in Boone, N.C. to its collective feet.
The 6-1 Grant, then a sophomore, didn’t give the rest of the entrants in the slam dunk competition a chance that day. He stole the show.
The next spring, however, Grant was himself a spectator, watching his CHS teammates go through spring football drills from the sidelines.
Instead of practicing with the rest of his teammates as a rising junior, Grant was held out of spring drills by Bulldogs’ head coach Jimmy Neal.
It was during this time that Neal had a heart-to-heart talk with Grant. The end result of their conversation was that it lit a fire under Grant that still burns to this day.
Neal said his talk with Grant was about more than school. It was about getting his athletically gifted, but unproven wide receiver headed in the right direction in life. The road to maturity, however, had to start in the classroom.
“It was more about Kelvin’s life,” Neal said about their closed-door talk. “Kelvin had made some mistakes in the classroom. He hadn’t worked like he was supposed to there. I just felt like we weren’t doing him any favors by barely getting him eligible or barely doing this or that with him, if he was going to be as good a football player as we thought he was going to be. It wouldn’t have been fair to Kelvin to do that.”
(WR) Kelvin Grant. All Photos by Tom Didato.|
While the rest of the Bulldogs were on the practice field working on their football skills, Grant was taking stock of his life. And he didn’t like the direction he was headed or the fact that he was no longer a part of the football program.
His football career did an about-face after he got his act together in the classroom. With a new lease on his football life, Grant made opposing defenses pay for his past misgivings with a breakout junior campaign.
Grant stepped up his game in 2000. He led the Bulldogs with 41 catches for 832 yards and six touchdowns. He also was a threat on special teams as a punt returner, a duty which he will return to this season.
Grant attributes his play of last season to that soul-searching talk with his coach.
“It all started when Coach Neal told me that he wouldn’t let me come out for spring practice because my grades were low,” he said. “After that I sat down and started thinking about how I let all the coaches down by not doing my best.
“I said that it was time for me to make a change. I just did what I had to do.”
Neal said that, in retrospect, the time Grant spent away from football may prove to be the best thing to ever happen to the likable three-sport athlete.
“It bothered Kelvin that he wasn’t a part of this team. Being a part of this team is very important to Kelvin, as it is with most all of our kids,” Neal said. “I think it was very important that Kelvin understand that we’re not going to waste talent here.”
When it came time for pre-season practice his junior year, it was a different Grant that showed up for workouts. He had become bigger by working out on his own. He spent countless hours catching footballs fired from the Jugs machine, for which he credits his success.
“I focused on seeing and catching the ball a lot more last year,” he said. “I used to think that (pass receiving) was all about just physical ability; you just go out there and do what you have to do.
“But mentally, I was a lot more focused last year. I also got a lot more reps than I did my sophomore year.”
Given the fact he was coming off an unspectacular sophomore season and then, missing spring practice, Neal said he did not have high expectations for Grant prior to the start of the 2000 season. That all changed when as a junior he became the team’s go-to receiver and a playmaker once he got the football.
“Kelvin definitely exceeded our expectations last year,” Neal said. “We always knew the ability was there ... we probably put too much pressure on him in his freshman and sophomore seasons. We always expected him to be able to do the things he did his junior year when he was a freshman and a sophomore.”
Possessing a vertical jump of 36 inches and timed in the 40 in the 4.4 range, Grant has the ability to go over smaller defenders to catch passes and after that outrun them.
“Kelvin’s a great athlete with a good body,” Neal said. “He jumps extremely well and he can run. He just does some things which are kind of special.”
And those feats are not confined to football.
On the track, he was a AAA All-Stater after finishing second in the 100-meter hurdles. On the basketball court, he became a more complete player last winter, averaging better than 14 points per game for a CHS team which advanced to the Lower State semifinals.
But his all-around game on the hardwood is often overlooked due to his highlight-reel dunks. Not only do they please those in the crowd, but Grant admits to getting a charge out of each one as well.
“I love playing basketball,” he said. “I love getting the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd.”
By mid-spring, the crowd looking in on Grant and his athletic abilities grew to include a bevy of Division I college football coaches who made their way in and out of Camden High School on a regular basis.
As the 2001 season approached, Grant said he was looking hard at eight schools. He said there was no clear-cut favorite among the likes of South Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Pittsburgh, Penn State, North Carolina, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
“I want to go to a school where I can make an impact,” he said. “I don’t want to rush the process, but I do want to become a player who will make an impact on a program.
“Coach Neal told me that I was going to get recruited by schools and not to let that affect me or the way I performed as a member of this team,” he said. “I’m trying not to let it (the recruiting process) affect me, my performance or my attitude.
Grant smiled as he talked about getting the chance to attend college and play football at the next level.
He has every reason to smile. His grades have improved, his life is on the right track and he is a major part of the football team once again. He had come a long way in the span of a year.
After having his choices of schools to attend, he chose Clemson. Off the field, though, the improvements have been even more noticeable.
No person, other than Grant, was more proud of this than was Neal.
“Kelvin just decided that his work ethic needed to change and he did that. He decided that he was going to get better,” Neal said.
“Kelvin’s a great guy. When people meet him for the first time, they take a liking to him. But for a while there, he was just immature. He’s really matured a lot over the past year.”
Got a subscription to Tiger Insider? In the last issue you missed:
- It's been 20 years since that magical night in Miami when Clemson won the
national championship. In the current issue of Tiger Insider, we take a look at
where the years have taken us. David Harry examines where the program has been
and Dan Scott takes a look at the challenges Tommy Bowden has ahead of him. The
coaches change, but the goal remains the same - a repeat of that night in Miami
when Clemson was crowed the National Champion of college football.
- You've probably never heard of Gorgon Eckley, but his story will give anyone
that thought about walking on at Clemson second thoughts about the decision not
to take that step. For Eckley, it took perseverance, but he did survive the
likes of Hootie Ingram and Red Parker and the classes he dreaded as much as
- Holli Armstrong takes a look at the boys on the bus. For every player, the trip
to the game is different. Every player has different techniques for preparing
for the game.
- Dan Scott examines the world of the sports agent through a conversation with
super agent Leigh Steinberg.
- Profiles of Clemson commitments Cory Groover and Anthony Waters.
- A look at the relationships that Clemson has to nurture with junior colleges.
- A look at the real hazards of playing college football.
- Much, much more and great Clemson photos
Other sneak peaks at previous Tiger Insiders