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Gameday: Wish Grant-ed for former walk-on guard

Jonah L. Rosenblum

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Senior guard Keegan Grant could have been on the track and field team at Brown University, but when Northwestern offered him the chance to fulfill his dream of playing Big Ten football as a walk-on, he couldn’t say no.

“Northwestern was the first school of the Big Ten to offer me even as a walk-on,” Grant said. “They really spoke to the inner child in me and it was a match made.”

Several years later, as Grant prepares for his team’s Senior Day game against Iowa, he has made his dreams a reality, earning a scholarship and the chance to start on Saturdays.

“You work for it the entire time, you keep going for it, and when you finally get to the spot, you don’t want to let go so you work even harder,” Grant said. “It’s one of the most gratifying feelings ever to be out on the field and you’re the starter.”

Grant’s rise to the starting lineup, however, has hardly been an easy one.

“He’s gone through some ups and downs in our system, and to persevere and then earn the starting job again and again and again, it’s a great example for the younger guys,” offensive line coach Adam Cushing said. “This is how it’s supposed to look.”

Perseverance and hard work describe Grant’s career, beginning with his arrival on the field as a walk-on player.

“All those guys, they were recruited, they wanted them to come up there, and so they’re pretty much set for a couple of years,” Grant said. “As a walk-on, you don’t get that luxury; you have to go out there and prove to the coaches that you deserve to be here and that you deserve to be on scholarship.”

Grant proved his worth quickly, appearing in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman, earning a scholarship in 2007.

“It’s just like a culmination of all your hard work, all the time you put into it,” Grant said. “It’s one of the greatest feelings ever, it shows you that hard work will be rewarded and if you just stick through things thick and thin, that something good will happen to you.”

But earning a scholarship was hardly a happily-ever-after moment for Grant, for his collegiate career still contained more bumps and bruises for him to endure.

In 2008, he was slowed with an ankle injury, and then after starting the last six games of the 2009 season, he tore a muscle in his shoulder and found the starting job was no longer his heading into this season. Instead, he had to compete with sophomore guards Brian Mulroe and Neal Deiters for a starting spot.

Originally, Mulroe was given the start, while Grant was resigned to the bench. Rather than take it as a slight, Grant reveled in the challenge.

“The fact that you know that you have to work twice as hard to get back in the rotation and harder than that to get your spot back really makes the game more enjoyable,” Grant said.

Grant took back the starting role when NU played Central Michigan on Sept. 25. With right guard Doug Bartels hampered by injuries, Grant took advantage of the opportunity, keeping a tight hold on the starting job.

“You don’t know when an opportunity is going to present itself, you just have to be prepared and he prepared well,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s taking advantage of it.”

As much of a story as Grant has to tell, coaches and players say that it takes him a while to open up.

“The word is kind of hard to explain; at times he’s kind of a quiet guy but when he comes out of his shell, he’s a heck of guy,” junior center Ben Burkett said. “He’s always got your back. He’s someone I always enjoyed playing next to and he’s going to be missed.”

And while Grant may be quiet in demeanor, his story speaks for itself.

“To go from being that to a scholarship player and a starter is what college football is about,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He’s a success story.”

jonahrosenblum2012@u.northwestern.edu

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