CAIRO, Ga. — Keep your head down. Go hard. Stay strong. Make it.
That simple work ethic has been instilled in three-star outside linebacker Walter Grant by an older brother who played small college ball in Florida and a cousin who played at South Alabama.
Grant’s recruiting timeline has exploded since his first offer from Kentucky after his junior season. Alabama was his leader, but Georgia caught the Tide after his first visit this winter. That feat cannot be understated as it relates to the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder from Cairo High School in South Georgia.
Everyone harps about UGA keeping big talents like Grant in state, but consider the following:
- Florida State is 33 miles from Cairo
- Florida is 163 miles away
- UGA is 252 miles away
- Alabama is 286 miles away
Which school should have the advantage? Somehow the Bulldogs have worked to be one of Grant’s top schools with Alabama.
“Georgia is in my top 2 right now,” Grant said. “I have been visiting them a lot lately. That could be the one school in my decision.”
Grant had Alabama as his dream school growing up. He always played with the Crimson Tide growing up on the college football video games. Who does he play like? His answer was former Alabama all-time great linebacker C.J. Mosley.
The junior, with an 81-inch wingspan, can play at either linebacker spot or defensive end. He’s one of the few hybrid linebackers this year that can do all three very well.
The first big reason why Georgia is in the running is head coach Kirby Smart.
“I’ve been knowing Coach Smart for about two years now,” Grant said. “He was at Alabama and we got real close. When he moved to Georgia we kept talking and talking. Then I started talking to (UGA assistant) coach (Kevin) Sherrer and we have now been talking a lot.”
It isn’t what Smart has told Grant that resonates. It is what he knows about the new coach at UGA. Grant knows Smart grew up in South Georgia and played at Bainbridge.
“It wasn’t something he said, but it is more just something I know about Kirby,” Grant said. “He comes from down here this way. He knows where I come from and he has already been where I am trying to go. He knows what I am all about.”
The second pro-UGA influence for Grant would be his recruiter of record. That’s Sherrer.
“He always has got jokes,” Grant said. “He will get on me about my hair. I don’t have a relationship with any other coach like I do with Coach Sherrer.”
Cairo head coach Steve Devoursney is impressed by Grant’s 355-pound power clean and how he never misses tackles.
“He’s a big, long-armed kid that is going to still grow and is physical,” Devoursney said. “I believe he will be an NFL kid one day if he continues to progress.”
Georgia is coming after him hard. Glenn Schumann, another assistant, spoke at the Cairo team banquet this spring. UGA also offers a few other benefits.
“I feel comfortable there,” Grant said. “I would be comfortable around the players and the coaches. I would get to wear my number 22 and I’d get to play the position that I like to play. That would be either inside or outside linebacker. I’d also get to play some defensive end, too.”
UGA, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, FSU, Indiana, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, South Carolina and Troy have all stopped by to see him this spring. Grant plans to be a December graduate.
“The mental approach with Walter is sharp,” Devoursney said. “He doesn’t handle losing or not doing something right very well. He wants to master it and know what is going on before he steps on that field. He sets himself up for success. He doesn’t like failure.”
Grant, who carries the nickname “Pocket Rocket”, is adept enough in the Syrupmakers’ scheme that he helps line up everyone on defense. He knows what everybody is doing and could coach his position already if he had to.
Devoursney thinks Grant is far from a decision. He thought Alabama was where the talented junior wanted to go, but all he hears from Grant is Florida State and Georgia.
That doesn’t mean Alabama is not interested.
“Coach Saban said the great thing about him is they think he can play outside and inside and also rush the passer,” Devoursney said. “They want to play him at both and make him more versatile which will obviously help him for the NFL.”
Grant went to see Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Florida State this spring. South Carolina and Tennessee are also vying to get him on campus. He’s a skilled enough athlete that he caught about 15 passes and a couple of touchdowns last year at tight end on hitch-and-go routes.
“The best thing he does as a player is he doesn’t miss tackles,” Devoursney said. “It is hard for him to miss a tackle. When he hits you and gets you in those 80-inch arms and that wingspan, it is over. … He’s tall and he’s 240 pounds so he doesn’t go backward. Then he is a physical kid so he is going to sell out to make that tackle. He also has those big 10-inch hands so he really has it all.”
The hybrid linebacker feels UGA and Alabama are recruiting him the hardest now. Florida State would be next and then Florida. He could decide about midway through or after his senior season.
UGA has been stressing his education and talking to his parents and family members that are close to him. He wants to get his degree in sports medicine.
“I just want to be around the game,” Grant said. “I wouldn’t mind being a coach, but I’d rather be the trainer.”
Grant, 17, didn’t go to G-Day, but his agent did. Sort of. That was his older sister. Quanisha Williams, who is in her late 20s, went for him.
“She liked it,” Grant said. “She liked the coaches and how they communicated with the players. Not just coaching-wise. But more so as a father figure like that.”
He sounds like he already knows his official visits. Those would be UGA, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky. Florida State also seems likely.
“As a kid growing up I didn’t play football at all because of asthma,” Grant said. “Then I started playing and fell in love with the sport. Then once I loved the sport, I tried to get very good at football so I could help my momma out to let it be able to pay for my education. Go to school because of football. Get a degree. Play in the NFL. Help my parents out. That’s the plan.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.