Then Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) senior Ryan Grant came off the field spitting anger into his own jersey. He had just coughed up the ball in a key game against the then Lords of New Jersey high school football, Bergen Catholic.
“It was his first and only fumble of the entire season,” recalled then first-year assistant coach Nunzio Campanile. “He came to the sideline looking like he’d just caused the end of the world.”
Of course, the apocalypse never came and Grant certainly showed more life, later in the game leading the Ironmen to victory that day, an 11-1 record and ride all the way to the 2000 state championship game.
The current star tailback for the Green Bay Packers rushed for 1,963 yards that season and 26 touchdowns. He also had 61 tackles and seven interceptions from his safety and cornerback spots and was an easy choice for New Jersey Player of the Year.
“That reaction to the fumble showed just what a competitive, conscientious kid he was,” Campanile said. “He was exactly the type of kid we wanted to be the face of the program.”
The victory over Bergen that day was also symbolic as Bosco Prep emerged as the new state power shortly thereafter.
In fact, later that season in the playoffs, the Ironmen eliminated Bergen in the second round and Grant, quite predictably, was in the center of the fray.
With the score tied at 14-14, Grant scored the go-ahead touchdown run to put Bosco up for good. But Grant was just getting started.
“Bergen came right back down but Ryan intercepted the ball in the end zone, the second of two he had that day,” said Campanile, now the program's offensive coordinator. “A couple plays later he zoomed down the field on an 80-yard TD run and we win going away.
“He just flipped the switch and turned everything around.”
With his team leading 32-13, Grant got injured in the state championship game against Holy Cross. The Ironmen ended up losing on the last play of the game on a 47-yard field goal.
The loss was crushing to be sure, but Grant, of course, didn’t let it deter him. He starred at Notre Dame and signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2005. He played sparingly, and missed the entire 2006 season following a bizarre off-the-field accident that severed an artery, tendon and ulnar nerve in his left arm. He almost bled to death and doctors said he may not regain the use of his left hand.
He rehabbed back to health but in 2007 was traded to Green Bay, where he hit the ground running, rushing for 929 yards in the final 10 games, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns. In a 42-20 playoff win over Seattle, Grant fumbled twice early that led to two Seahawks’ TDs.
But like in high school, he responded full force going for a franchise postseason mark of 201 yards and three touchdowns.
None of it has been surprising to any on the Bosco staff.
“He hung in there on the practice squad and then being injured and then being traded,” Campanile said. “It was hard when he was traded but the good part was that someone else really wanted him. All of it just shows what kind of perseverance he has.”
With big expectations after 2007, the 6-foot-1, 222-pound Grant struggled early last season and had so-so numbers: 1,203 yards, 3.9 average, and four touchdowns.
Campanile said if his high school days are any indications, Grant is destined for a big 2009.
So is Grant's alma mater which sports at least five Division I athletes and is scheduled to host California national power De La Salle on Saturday. The game features two nationally-ranked teams.
“He’s always responded, he’s always been a confident kid but very humble,” Campanile said. “He had such a great work ethic. He didn’t say much but he didn’t need to. Everyone followed because they had so much respect for him.”
After Grant, also a basketball and track standout, graduated from Bosco, many talented and dedicated players followed.
Quarterback Mike Teel was just signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Cornerback Michael Ray Garvin is on the injured reserve for the Arizona Cardinals. Linebacker Brian Toal, Bosco head coach Greg Toal’s son, starred at Boston College and is now with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.
“It all started with Ryan,” Campanile said. “He was one of the hardest working guys we ever had in the program on top of all his talent. He’s someone we’re very proud to say came from Don Bosco Prep.”
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