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Freshman's speed adds dimension to offense

Posted: September 19, 2012 - 10:56pm  |  Updated: September 20, 2012 - 12:21am
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Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant has burst on the scene this season to give the Red Raiders a new level of speed.  Stephen Spillman
Stephen Spillman
Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant has burst on the scene this season to give the Red Raiders a new level of speed.
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Texas Tech wide receiver Bradley Marquez was hustling upfield Saturday night when he heard footsteps — a different kind of footsteps.

This wasn’t the sound of a defensive back lining him up for a big hit. Instead, as Marquez looked to throw a downfield block, he sensed fellow receiver Jakeem Grant coming up fast on what turned out to be a 57-yard pass play.

The big gain got wiped out by a penalty way back at the line of scrimmage. But for Marquez, who has already played a season of pro baseball as a center fielder, having Grant run him down was weird.

“The one that got called back, he ran up on my back,” Marquez said, grinning as he told the story. “I came to the sideline. I was like, ‘You’re too fast for me. You ran up on me. That doesn’t happen too many times.’ You just let him get some open space and let him run.”

Grant’s calling card when he signed in February 2011 was speed. Tech coaches, players and fans waited a year and half — through Grant’s redshirt season — to see it. Each of the Red Raiders’ last two opponents has gotten a dose.

Before the 57-yarder against New Mexico was called back, Grant had a 42-yard reception at Texas State. Both came on quick passes into the middle, and he subsequently darted for big yards.

The idea is to get him isolated on a linebacker.

“Basically, like a four-step slant, right across (the linebacker’s) face,” said Grant, a slot receiver from Mesquite Horn.

At 5-foot-6 and 163 pounds, Grant brings to mind Tech’s “Smurf” receivers from a generation ago, especially 5-3 Tyrone Thurman and 5-9 Wayne Walker — both short, fast and dangerous.

“We’ve always known he was a playmaker,” said Marquez, who leads Tech with 12 catches. “He brings a lot of speed to this team. He’s probably in the top two fastest guys on the team.

“He works really hard. Size isn’t always everything, because if you have a big heart and you play the way he does, he makes up for it.”

Grant has 10 catches for 106 yards, helping the Red Raiders to a 3-0 start.

To reach this point, Grant had to go through a redshirt season, which he admits tested his patience. But there were good reasons to hold him back. He suffered a broken pinkie finger and a fractured thumb a week apart in the 2011 preseason, then a hip pointer right after that. Grant says his conditioning wasn’t at peak level then either, something he recognized after the fact.

Grant said he weighed 141 pounds when he first reported to Tech. Over the past year, strength and conditioning coach Joe Walker has helped him gain muscle as well as the ability to go fast play after play.

“As I look back on it, it was really good for me,” Grant said. “Back then, I wasn’t prepared to play. But this year, I’m bigger, I’m faster, I’m stronger and I’m ready to compete now.”

Aside from Grant’s playmaker potential, offensive coordinator Neal Brown sees him becoming more well-rounded.

“I’m comfortable with him,” Brown said, “not only with the ball in his hands, but he’s playing better without the ball in his hands, which means we can play him more snaps. We kind of use him either as getting the ball or a decoy, but he blocked really well at the end of that game the other night, so I’ve got more confidence in him in that regard, too.”

Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said it takes time for a young receiver to earn trust from a quarterback, in this case from Seth Doege. Tuberville said last season, Grant wasn’t always ready to run fast routes, be in the right place and catch every throw.

“Your second year here, you either make or break yourself,” Tuberville said. “Seth’s got a lot of confidence, knowing he’s going to be in the right place at the right time. He’s going to be full speed. The only problem is, over the middle, seeing him, because he’s not the biggest guy in the world.

“But he’s a difference maker once he gets the ball in his hands, so we’ve added him more and more each week into the game plan. So hopefully he can keep his consistency up.”

Grant’s 42-yard catch-and-run at Texas State took the Red Raiders inside the 5-yard line, setting up a touchdown. On that play, he looked like the guy who caught 79 passes for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior year at Mesquite Horn.

“It really did feel like high school again,” he said. “But in high school once I made a big play, the whole team was celebrating. The (Tech) coaches were pretty excited for me, but they also were worried about getting the next play off.”

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Love watching this guy play

Like the article says, reminds me a lot of Wes Welker, Tyrone Thurman, Wayne Walker, and of course Neamia Glover (probably mis-spelled his name there). Glover was so fast over the middle that once in the open field, he was just a blur.

This recieving corp this year is worth the price of admission. If you haven't seen these guys play yet, your missing some real entertainment!

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