BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – When the offensive line plowed over primary tacklers, and the wide receivers sealed off the corners, Corey Grant’s only job was to use his track-star speed to score a couple of live scrimmage touchdowns.
No need to wait. For once in his college career, patience wasn’t necessary.
“It has helped getting more reps, because you see more things happening,” Grant said. “I think it’s an opportunity for me to get into the groove of the offense.”
Cameron Artis-Payne has 3,412 rushing yards in college, including the 2,000-yard milestone his sophomore year at Allan Hancock Community College.
Tre Mason has 1,163 rushing yards in college, including the 1,000-yard milestone his sophomore year at Auburn, when he accounted for nearly a third of the team’s total offense.
Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford were each in the vicinity of 1,700 rushing yards their senior years in high school, and will look to contribute immediately upon reaching campus this summer.
Grant has a whopping 29 yards the past three years. He redshirted at Alabama in 2010, shifted to Auburn for the 2011 season and sat out due to NCAA transfer rules, and settled for nine carries in 2012 buried on the depth chart behind Mason, Onterio McCalebb and Mike Blakely.
Grant, a local favorite from nearby Opelika High School, wasn’t even awarded an Auburn scholarship until August 16 preceding last season.
None of this fazes Grant, a junior-to-be who scored the first touchdown of Auburn’s spring drills in March, busted out for two long TD runs in Saturday’s scrimmage and appears like a bona fide contender for significant carries this fall, the way he’s carrying himself whether he’s surrounded by linebackers or reporters.
“I’m more focused, I think. Trying not to let any opportunity slip by,” Grant said. “Every opportunity I can get, I try to take that chance and run with it.”
Running, Grant can do. He won the Alabama Class 6A 100-meter dash his last two years of high school, and was rumored to run a sub-4.3 second 40-yard-dash at Alabama.
“He’s always been good. He’s fast; he’s explosive,” junior wide receiver Sammie Coates said. “We expect that out of Corey.”
Pure speed isn’t the only reason Grant has the coaching staff’s attention.
“He’s a very hard worker. He does a lot of dirty work and he made a couple of good runs,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He had some success, which was good to see.”
Grant’s been a roster afterthought before – as a four-star recruit with the Crimson Tide, he had little choice but to toil on the 2010 scout team, behind reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, future 2011 Heisman finalist Trent Richardson and likely first-round NFL draft selection Eddie Lacy.
Grant is very confident he’s finally in a Malzahn-paced offense that suits him, since it’s the system used by Opelika High School.
“I think so: using my speed, it helps me get outside or hit creases harder and faster,” Grant said “Overall, this is a better offense for me.”
An ankle sprain for Mason has allowed Artis-Payne and Grant to show their stuff to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and running backs coach Tim Horton, neither of whom have any preconceived notions about the presumed pecking order.
“We’ve told our guys from Day One: No jobs are set,” Lashlee said. “Really, each day, your job is up for grabs. We’re still giving guys equal reps. Each day is an evaluation.”
Mason is constantly in Grant’s ear, giving him pointers when he gets a breather in favor of Artis-Payne.
“You’ve got to earn your respect from your coaches, your teammates,” Grant said. “When fall comes around, we know such-and-such guy, he can get the job done.”
Artis-Payne hasn’t met with reporters yet – none of the three early-enrolled junior college transfers have – but Grant reports he’s a grinder on the field and a goofball off it.
“When we get to football, he’s serious and he puts on his work-hard face. But outside of football, he’s a funny guy, great guy.”
The Tigers won’t pressure Mason to return for A-Day or any of the other four remaining practices.
“We want to get guys back 100 percent,” Lashlee said. “It’s really been good for Cameron and Corey and some of those guys to get more reps, and to see how they handle it when the load increases.”