augusta free press news

Nick Grant back for sixth season to take care of ‘unfinished business’

nick grant int
Nick Grant reels in a third quarter INT in Virginia’s 43-32 win over Boston College in December. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference (Erin Edgerton/Daily Progress).

Nick Grant was on the field a lot in 2020, out of necessity, as Virginia struggled with numerous injuries in the secondary.

Grant was out there for 634 of the D’s 716 snaps last season – 88.5 percent, all told.

This after playing on 98.5 percent of the snaps in 2019, another year that saw the UVA defense deal with significant injuries in the defensive backfield.

Good news: there are reinforcements this season.

Darrius Bratton is back and healthy, and a pair of transfers – Anthony Johnson (Louisville) and Josh Hayes (North Dakota State) – will compete for time.

Which should make everybody that much more effective.

It also made for some spirited competition in training camp.

“I mean, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to go on the field, even the people who are already here, let alone the starters,” Grant said. “And we have younger guys, you know, wanting to play and catch up, and there’s someone who’s inserted who’s already got experience over them. So that’s pushing them even harder to learn their playbooks. So they aren’t forgotten. And this year the transfers are here, you know?”

Grant is back for a sixth season as a super senior, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reason he came back: “We didn’t end the season last year the way that we wanted to, so really, just unfinished business,” Grant said. “It’s very personal to all of us. So, you will see us out here trying hard and doing extra any way we can.”

The Virginia secondary was dead last in the ACC in passing yards per game allowed (304.4) and pass efficiency defense (154.4) in 2020, and a big reason for that was chunk plays – passing plays of 20+ yards.

You almost want to delete the game tape from last year, it was so bad.

“What we can learn about last year is just the fact that we need to come together and work towards a common goal,” Grant said. “Last year is last year, but it also is motivation, and a lot of the super seniors, like, we didn’t come back for no reason. A lot of us are selfless. Like, if the goal was just to go on to the next level, I’m pretty sure most of us would have had a chance last year, but it’s bigger than that, it’s bigger than us. So, it kind of gels us together.”

The focus in the secondary room has been on improving efforts to the ball, developing and maintaining a sense of urgency, “really just dialing in and just putting in the work that needs to be done,” Grant said.

“You know, there’s no excuses for whatever the case may be, whatever. However we were viewed last year, there’s no excuses,” Grant said. “The only thing we can do, whether we were great last year or terrible last year, the only thing we can do this year is get better than we were. So, it’s just a matter of locking in on our responsibilities and truly being accountable to our jobs and putting the best five people on the field.

“Our mindset is completely different. Our effort to the ball is completely different. And the urgency is completely different. We have different goals this season, and we actually truly believe in, buy into them. So that’s a major difference between this year last year,” Grant said.

Grant welcomes the pressure that is there with the influx of talent.

“I’m my own player, and you know, everybody else on the field is their own player. So, if you get caught up too much in taking bring a new person in the heart, you won’t get better,” Grant said. “So, at the end of the day, there’s just another player on the team, whether they were here before or not, you know, they’re going to push you, so, I mean, they just have to be talented players. So, that gives you even more of an incentive to be better.”

Story by Chris Graham