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September 17, 2009
TUSCALOOSA _ Two years ago, they were starters for the University of Alabama football team.
The Mississippi athletic brethren had come in together and progressed up the depth chart almost simultaneously, becoming good friends and even roommates for a while.
Everything was seemingly going their way when, as one of them put it, it was like they were kicked off the planet, or at least the one where the Crimson Tide played. No longer starting, running back Terry Grant and Mike McCoy all but vanished from the spotlight, which was very different for them
after so much success.
"It was a hard adjustment, coming from playing to not playing," Grant said, "But once you reset your mind and you realize that football is not everything, you make some adjustments. I'm not the face of this team, I'm just a part of it, and that's how I feel about it now. I'd go out there and play offensive line if I could just to help these guys win."
That insight took a year for the Lumberton native to reach and only after a lot of soul-searching and discussion with his colleague from Rankin (126 miles away). It was also after the media and fans openly wondered, "What happened to him?"
In 2007, Nick Saban's first game at Alabama, the Tide's first offensive play against Western Carolina was a sweep right with Grant taking the handoff and going 47 yards for a touchdown. In his first start he tallied 136 rushing yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns.
He was even better the next week at Vanderbilt, with 173 yards on 24 carries, and went on to lead the Tide in rushing that season with 891 yards on 180 carries.
But the season took a physical toll and Grant, who missed the final nine games of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury that earned him a medical redshirt, again found himself sidelined. This time it was painful sports hernia requiring surgery, which took him roughly a year to recover from. That was in addition to shin splints and other injuries last season, when Grant mustered only 88 yards on 35 attempts, causing him to wonder what he was doing here.
"I think like that every day," Grant said. "It's kind of hard to come back from, because my whole right side was so dysfunctional I'd have to compensate so hard on the right side to run, and it just was like, 'Is is worth it or is it not?' But once I got better, your mind starts to change. It's worth it."
Meanwhile, McCoy started nine times in both 2007 and '08, only to see Nikita Stover get the nod for the final three games last season, including the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl. His 16 catches for 191 yards weren't eye-popping, but still the second-highest output among wide receivers, trailing only Julio Jones.
This season appeared to start much the same way, with sophomore Marquis Maze getting the first start opposite Jones, although McCoy did turn heads with some hard-hitting blocks.
"I've laid a couple of people of out, but I haven't done everything that I (should)," he said.
Coaches were looking for a way to get Grant involved, going so far as have him practice with the wide receivers last week, and McCoy didn't catch a pass at Virginia Tech.
Then both got their chance against FIU.
When Jones went down early with a bruised knee, McCoy came in and caught five passes for a career-high 100 yards, including just his second career touchdown on a 24-yard reception in which two defenders spectacularly collided.
"The play is designed to go either way, they're either going to take Colin Peek or they're going to take me," McCoy said. "Colin, he made a great block and that's what caused everything and Maze held his guys downfield. (They) and the offensive line really did everything for me, I just had to run the ball in."
He said overall: "It was just an opportunity to step up."
Grant, who's been deep with Javier Arenas on kickoffs, heard his number called in the fourth quarter, when his 42-yard touchdown completed the scoring in the 40-14 victory and gave him 69 rushing yards - his best showing in almost two years.
"It was pretty good," Grant said.
Where they go from here is anyone's guess, especially with coaches putting Grant in different spots to try and take advantage of his speed (and yes, he does think he's the fastest player on the team ahead of Maze).
"We want Terry to have success because he has certainly given his all to the team," said Saban, who likes to mention Grant in regards to a sign in the football building: "Out of yourself and into the team."
McCoy, meanwhile, will likely get a chance to impersonate Jones again this weekend, although with true freshman Michael Bowman enjoying his first game action against FIU the competition is only getting increasing.
"We view Mike as a starter on our team," Saban said. "He has played a lot. I think our receivers have all improved to some degree. So we feel like we have more guys now that can play winning football for us. Mike certainly showed in this game, when he got an opportunity that he can take advantage of it and he's ready to be a winning performer for us at that position. I think this game probably did a lot for his confidence and certainly he will help us in the future if he can continue to be a productive player. We were very, very pleased with his performance in the game."
So here they are, back again making plays for the Crimson Tide. It was a long time in the making, but due in part to their helping one another, maybe more than they realize. After McCoy told reporters that if he ever gets married he wants Grant in his wedding party, his teammate came back with "Yeah, he'll be in my wedding too."
"Terry's been the same guy," McCoy said. "He and I talk about it all the time, and he tells me 'That anything worth having is worth the struggle.' That's something that kind of inspires me and keeps me going because we're kind of both in the same boat. Things happen and we have to be patient."