Sonny Cumbie believes Jakeem Grant’s confidence skyrocketed in a mere 28 seconds last season.
That’s the time it took Grant, Texas Tech’s 5-foot-6 sophomore spark plug, to return a combined two kickoffs for touchdowns in back-to-back games to end the 2012 season.
“For him, he always believed he could play,” said Cumbie, Tech’s co-offensive coordinator. “After doing that, now he knows he can play.”
By all accounts, Grant has played like it through one week of spring practices. Asked Thursday which of Tech’s receivers had stood out to this point, coach Kliff Kingsbury mentioned Grant, along with senior Eric Ward.
Working with the first team at one of the inside receiver spots, Grant said he has quickly grown comfortable with Kingsbury’s offensive schemes. It’s not as if the Red Raiders are reinventing the wheel — they are still a no-huddle, spread offense — but Grant, not likely to fall behind in any foot race, believes his speed and quick feet can be utilized well in Tech’s attack.
“This offense is much quicker and I like it,” Grant said. “You have more of an option to sit down in your routes, or to keep going and beat the dude, use your speed. (Kingsbury) came in and said, ‘You’re not going to do one specific thing. If you feel like you can beat him, then beat him. If you feel like he’s playing you too hard over the top, then sit him down.”
Such freelancing requires a Jedi-like connection between receiver and quarterback, one Grant said all players at those positions have been working hard to cultivate.
And Grant’s play has stood out to teammates.
“I feel he’s getting faster, even more elusive,” fellow receiver Bradley Marquez said. “That’s dangerous for defenses because he’s been having a good offseason and the first few practices of spring have been real good. So he’s definitely going to make a lot of noise next year.”
While Cumbie believes part of Grant’s improvement can be attributed to the confidence fostered by two highlight plays back in December, he also said the natural growth of player now in his third year with the program is part of the equation, too.
“It’s kind of a natural progression for him,” Cumbie said. “He kind of took his lumps as a redshirt, and then last year he had the success he did. ... Confidence-wise he’s in a really good place, and I’m not surprised at all with his development over the course of the last three years.”
But the question Tech fans really want to know: Can Grant extend his streak of consecutive games with a kickoff return when the 2013 season starts?
His teammates had already started applying the pressure after Grant’s bowl-game highlight.
“They were like, ‘You’ve got to do that every time next year,’” Grant said. “I always tell them, ‘Hey, you’ve got to block for me again. I can’t do it without you.’”
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