ATHENS — There are some high school coaches who listen intently to the recruiting pitches made by college coaches who come through to court their players and record them like promissory notes to be cashed in later. Then, if things don’t turn out exactly like the picture that was drawn for them at the outset, they might get upset and even tell a certain college they’re not welcomed in their school anymore.
Steve DeVoursney is not one of those coaches. He gets it.
The high school head coach who for a long time was sending players to college all over the country from his powerhouse program at Griffin does so nowadays at a slower but still-steady rate at Cairo High. And it was at Cairo where he coached Walter Grant through the 2016 season and where coach Kirby Smart plucked Grant to come to Georgia to play outside linebacker.
The pitch at the time was that might be the next Leonard Floyd or Alec Ogletree for the Bulldogs. Grant exhibited the same sort of physical characteristics as those players. That is, he was big enough (or could get big enough) to play most anywhere on defense, and fast enough as well.
Steve Devoursney’s arrival at Cairo High School coincided with Walter Grant’s rise as a football prospect. (Chip Towers / DawgNation.com)
Grant certainly displayed that versatility while playing for the Syrupmakers. In his senior season alone, Grant played inside and outside linebacker, defensive end, tight end and, finally, running back. He answered the call Cairo when entered the playoffs without a dependable running game. Listed then at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Grant rushed for 512 yards and 7 touchdowns to help his team reach the state quarterfinals. He made quite a few highlights while doing so.
“If you have a need, you look for people who can help you fill it,” DeVoursney said.
Fast forward two years later and that need has remained outside linebacker for Grant at Georgia. He has played every game the last two seasons at “Sam” linebacker, including eight starts last year.
But there are indications that could change. Grant, who now carries 245 pounds on his 6-4 frame, has been working with the running backs and tight ends this spring.
Smart called it “an experiment” when asked about it last week and couldn’t say whether the move would be permanent or temporary. The Bulldogs are experiencing depth issues at both positions during spring practice, which typically features a smaller roster due to seniors going out and freshmen not yet arriving.
Meanwhile, Georgia happens to have a plethora of outside linebackers, if not already on campus then heading that way soon. That has changed some recently with the disciplinary situations and injuries, but Grant has remained mostly on the offensive side of the ball this spring
Smart was adamant at the beginning that it was not a sign of being unhappy with Grant’s play on defense. The rising junior has recorded 30 tackles but only a half-sack so far in his career.
“He’s done a hell of a job,” said Smart, who was recruiting Grant for Alabama before becoming Georgia’s head coach. “I got to see Walter run the ball at Cairo. We just said, ‘hey, who on our team can help at tight end or running back?’ I saw Walter run it. He played a lot of tailback in high school.”
It’s an odd sight for sure, Grant still wearing his number 84 jersey and towering over the Bulldogs’ other backs, none of whom clears 6 feet. He would appear to fit in better with the tight ends, but it’s with the running backs that Grant has spent the majority of his time.
I recently asked DeVoursney, who I’ve known since his Griffin days, about that.
“You can’t worry about that kind of stuff,” he said. “Obviously he played tight end and running back in high school. I’m sure that’s why (Smart) thought it’d be a good fit for him. And he’s a smart kid. If he needs to go back to defense I’m sure he can retain that. It’s kind of a good problem for Georgia to have, I’m sure.”
DeVoursney said he has neither heard from Grant about the position change nor reached out to Grant to find out how he’s feeling about it.
That, he said, is not Grant’s style.
“He’s a South Georgia kid who just wants to help his team however he can,” DeVoursney said. “We had the same situation here. We needed to move him to offense to get our offense going and he stepped right end and made it happen. He’s just one of those kids that’s going to do whatever you ask him to do and do it the best he can.”
The difference then and now is there were no other Walter Grants on that Cairo team. Georgia has a few Walter Grants on its squad and some pretty darn good ones at the positions where he’s currently getting looks.
For instance, yes, there are some depth issues in the offensive backfield, but the Bulldogs do still have D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook back there this spring, and Zamir White and Kenny McIntosh look long from joining them.
It’s probably problematic while trying to give the defense good looks during spring ball. Only Prather Hudson and few other walkons are around to do that. But as for meaningful reps this fall, there probably won’t be many to be had, barring injury, for other backs.
As for tight ends, Charlie Woerner and John FitzPatrick are the only scholarship players able to go in practice at the moment. Freshman Ryland Goede (knee injury) and graduate transfer Eli Wolf will join them later, plus 6-7, 258-pound walkon Jarrett Freeland.
From that standpoint, odds seem good that Grant may still be needed at outside linebacker. And while Georgia has added blue-chip edge rushers such as Adam Anderson, Robert Beal Jr., Jermaine Johnson, Azeez Ojulari and Nolan Smith the last couple of years, Grant remains the most experienced outside linebacker the Bulldogs have.
Nobody’s blown away by the 21 tackles and one lonesome tackle for loss that Grant put on his ledger from last season. Then again, he hasn’t really been put in a position to do much more than that so far.
“He’s a big, physical kid and offenses are just changing so much right now,” DeVoursney said. “When LSU or Alabama runs right at you, he fits into that scheme well. But there’s not much I-football anymore. It’s almost all spread now and Having to cover people out of the backfield and stuff like that is not really his forte. College football’s changing and I’m sure they’re just looking for places to put him that fit his skill set.”
DeVoursney figures they’ll find a spot for Grant eventually. While Grant is listed in Georgia’s media guide at 245 pounds, DeVoursney thinks he might be more like 250. He knows Grant is power-cleaning at least 405 pounds these days, which is 50 pounds more than the record he held at Cairo.
“He’s gotten stronger, put on weight and muscle, does everything they tell them, DeVoursney said. “And he’s smart. He should be able to handle being moved around a little.”
For Georgia, there could be worse things than Grant ended up back where he started.