Rutgers teammates share bond on, off field
The relationship between junior wide receiver Janarion Grant and sophomore running back Josh Hicks goes beyond more than just normal teammates. Grant said he would give the shirt off his back for Hicks. And Hicks has literally given Grant a coat when it’s been too cold.
They stand less than one inch in height apart, with the advantage going to the more seasoned of the duo. They both hail from the western coast of Florida, near Tampa, less than an hour away from each other.
With a noticeable southern twang in their voices, both Floridians sport dreaded braids in their hair. While one has 45 pounds on the other and they play two different positions, both have emerged as stars for the Rutgers football team.
Grant and Hicks are best friends. And it’s been like that since Grant hosted Hicks on his official visit when they found out they had so much in common.
“We’re really close — we come from the same area surrounding Tampa, Florida,” Grant said. “I hosted him when he came up here for his official visit before his freshman year. That’s how we connected, way back then. We hang around each other every day after class, after practice or by each other during the games — that’s just the kind of brotherhood that we have.”
Besides for physical stature and where they live, Grant and Hicks materialized as key players starting as early as their individual freshmen years. Their value to Rutgers is something they also share.
Grant, a dynamic receiver and kick returner, affects the game in multiple facets. Heralded as one of the more valuable players on the Knights by Flood in the past, Grant’s value shows in what he did in the season opener alone against Norfolk State.
When the Spartans kicked off to Rutgers at the end of halftime, it was Grant who took the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. He added another 50 return yards in the game while also catching a pass for six yards.
“Janarion is a special guy,” Flood said following the game against Norfolk State. “You saw it in the past and you certainly saw it today when he took the opening kickoff back and he's one of those players that every time he touches the ball, he's got an opportunity to score. And those guys are special and he did it again today on special teams and he's going to have a big role as a wide receiver for us, as well.”
Hicks, who was named the Quick Lane Bowl MVP last season for Rutgers, came out of nowhere last season as a redshirt-freshman following the injury to senior running back Paul James. Hicks ran for 202 yards on 10.6 yards-per-rush and a touchdown against North Carolina.
While Flood always marvels at the importance of Grant, he also expresses the significance of Hicks’ transition to a key running back.
“I think he's a more experienced player,” Flood said of Hicks. “He’s a very talented runner. Running back is a position that you can affect the football game at an early stage of your career. Josh did that last year for us. But now he's got more experience. And as you get more experience, you become a better pass protector, you become a better receiver and you understand how you fit into some of the pass concepts even when you're not going to get the ball.”
The chemistry between Grant and Hicks may have started off the field on Hicks’ official visit, but it continued on the field last season.
Hicks played a key role on special teams as the up back on kick return. In other words, Hicks was the player who stood in front of Grant and blocked for the explosive returner. Sometimes, Hicks would have to make the decision to have Grant collect a touchback, something that was always hard for him.
But this season, Hicks is too valuable for Flood to risk with the lead blocking responsibility. Just because Hicks isn’t out there doesn’t mean he can’t be into each kick return.
“I wasn’t out there (on the field) for Janarion’s kick return,” Hicks said. “I was pumped for J, though, when he returned the kick for a touchdown. Me and him are really close and he’s just like a brother to me. We live less than an hour away from each other — that’s my brother.”
The brotherhood extends to one common denominator between the two Floridians — they hate the cold.
Grant said it might be the thing he hates the most about going to school in New Jersey. It is hard for Hicks to disagree. But for each other, Grant said they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for each other.
“We most definitely hate the cold,” Grant said of the biggest similarity with Hicks. “It’s really tough. People keep saying, ‘You’re going to get used to it,’ but nah, I don’t know about that. I can never get used to it — too cold. With us being up here, we’ll help each other out if we don’t have anything to handle the cold. He’ll give me a coat or I’ll give him what he needs.”
What does the future hold for the two emerging talents of the Rutgers football team? Flood said both Knights offer value to the team that is unrivaled, but admitted Hicks had room to grow in only his second season.
Grant agrees with Flood. If Hicks wants to develop from a bruising, explosive running back and expand, Grant thinks Hicks should take some notes from his play.
“I like to elude people more, but just because he’s a running back, he’ll tell me he’s going to run me over,” Grant quipped. “I’m kind of quick, so I use that to the best of my ability to get around defenders. But if he has to, he’ll use a move. I’m not going to teach him anything, though. He’ll probably just watch me or look at my highlights if he wants to learn anything.”
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