Opposite Hall, UVA Cornerback Grant Doesn’t Mind Being Picked On

By Jerry Ratcliffe

UVA linebacker Charles Snowden (11) looks on as teammate Nick Grant (1) celebrates after returning his first career interception for a touchdown against William & Mary (Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Media Relations).

Go ahead and pick on Nick Grant. He welcomes the challenge. Just ask William & Mary.

With senior cornerback Bryce Hall having resisted the temptation to take his talents to the NFL after last season, and choosing to return to Virginia, he was almost automatically ranked as the No. 1 corner in the country.

If you’re an opposing quarterback or offensive coordinator, the prospect of throwing the ball to Hall’s side of the field doesn’t seem very attractive. Thusly, throwing at Grant is the lesser of two evils.

Afterall, Grant spent most of his first two years with the Cavaliers on special teams, so why wouldn’t you throw at essentially a rookie?

That concept isn’t anything surprising to Grant, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior from Spotsylvania. In fact, he expected it coming into the season because he said his own teammates came after him every day in training camp.

William & Mary did the expected last week and paid the price. Tribe QB Hollis Mathis threw in Grant’s direction and immediately knew it was a big mistake. Grant picked off the pass and took it to the house, 85 yards, the third-longest interception return in UVA history, and the longest by an FBS player this season.

Grant brought the Scott Stadium crowd to its feet in the 52-17 rout of W&M.

It didn’t take long for them to see he was going to go all the way. There he was, being escorted by a group of orange-shirted friendlies all the way to paydirt.

“It was unreal,” Grant said about his first collegiate interception and TD. “First off, I bobbled the ball because I got so excited. I was ready for [the W&M receiver] to break his route. I saw the ball coming and I was like, ‘I don’t mind if I do.’

“I had Snowden, Burney, and Cross all out in front of me all the way to the end zone … I had a convoy, personally escorted.”

What made the play even more fun was that Grant was somewhat prophetic about the whole thing turning into a touchdown.

“You can ask all of my friends … I told them that my first career pick is going to the crib,” Grant giggled. “It’s going to be a touchdown and I’ve been saying that since my first year of college. It just so happened to come my way my fourth year. It’s a DB’s dream.”

It was the first UVA interception for a touchdown since Quin Blanding’s 58-yarder against Duke in 2017.

While Blanding is long gone, he set a precedent for some of Virginia’s defensive backs today. Grant said that two years ago, several of the DBs were inspired by Blanding on how to really learn and how to study film.

“The more you hang out with guys like that, just watching film and watching his work ethic, is amazing,” Grant said. “When you see one guy like that and the success he has, naturally you’re going to gravitate toward whatever he’s doing to see if that will work for you. Our entire group is film hungry, work hungry.”

Perhaps some of Blanding’s mental toughness also wore off on Grant, who was in a heated battle for the cornerback job. When things heated up, Coach Bronco Mendenhall was impressed that Grant simply refused to yield the position. He didn’t budge. He staked a claim on it, and wasn’t going to just give it away.

“I would say that’s more of the natural work ethic because I’ve been working at it for so long,” Grant said. “Competition comes natural to me. I feel like I was one play away my second year from starting, one play away my third year from starting. Finally it all came together. I’ve always had a natural hunger for playing.”

Still, when it came to finally getting that start this season, Grant admittedly was “kind of nervous.” He was the only guy in the secondary that had never started, and trusted in his teammates to calm his nerves and just play football.

He also credits working against Arizona State transfer Terrell Chatman every day, and sometimes against Joe Reed, for making him a better pass defender.

“Joe is my best friend, my locker mate, the locker right next to me,” Grant said. “We compete all practice long. I come in and it’s like, dang, this guy just caught a ball on my secondary. He’s a great player. He will not stop until he succeeds in all the goals he has set.”

Chatman, Grant said, has the speed of an Andre Levrone, but more of a steadiness to his game. Chatman got Grant’s attention real quick in individual summer workouts.

“I was thinking, man, this dude’s for real,” Grant said. “He’s catching everything, one-handed. I can’t not notice that. The first time he caught the ball in fall camp, it was against me. He has a little different feel that I’ve never played against before.”

With those types of receivers coming his way every day, Grant had no choice but to get good or remain one step away. He chose the former and Mendenhall is glad to have him ship-shape.

Perhaps his stiffest test will come Saturday night against a more elite group of pass catchers when Florida State comes to town.

Yeah, pick on Grant. He likes it.


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