11 months after season-ending injury, Janarion Grant is full-go and anxious to get back on field

<p>Senior wide receiver Janarion Grant is assisted off the field after suffering a season-ending right ankle injury in Rutgers’ 14-7 loss to Iowa last year.</p>

Senior wide receiver Janarion Grant is assisted off the field after suffering a season-ending right ankle injury in Rutgers’ 14-7 loss to Iowa last year.

When teams have prepared to play Rutgers every week since 2013, there is always the same name circled as a priority of who to keep the ball away from. 

That name is Janarion Grant, a senior wide receiver and kick returner who after missing the last 7 games of last year with an achilles injury, is at full health and as hungry as ever to get back on the field.

"It's been too long," he said after practice on Monday. "I love this game. I'm feeling great. I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to go."

Plain and simple, Grant is a competitor. He returned kicks and punts and also played quarterback, running back and wide receiver last year. Even more impressive, he scored touchdowns at all of those positions. 

And as he spoke to reporters on Monday, Grant said he wanted to do more than that, saying he can play cornerback as well. But he'll have to settle for being an offensive superstar, a role he has developed into from just being a return specialist early in his career.

"He's very excited about returning but also very excited about the progress that he's made as a wide receiver," wide receivers coach Jafar Williams said. 

That progression is key, as Grant will be used primarily as the starting slot receiver on offense. While he wants to do more than that, it isn't necessarily a bad thing for Rutgers, as the team has tons more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball than it did a year ago.

Head coach Chris Ash noted that will take some of the workload off of Grant, who they want to keep healthy for the entirety of the season.

"I think the thing that is different this year is we're going to probably have some more playmakers around Janarion (which is) why we might not have to ask him to do as much," Ash said at Media Day. "But he's a dynamic player, and we're going to use him as much as we possibly can; and not put him in harm's way by playing him at every snap.

In addition to a new overall role, Grant was tasked with learning a new offense under Jerry Kill.

As a 5th-year senior, it is his 5th different offense he's had to learn, but as a veteran, he knows that it is part of the process and put in the mental work necessary.

"You always gotta stay in the playbook," he said. If you're not, something's wrong with you... It only takes one guy to mess something up."

The offense isn't the only thing different about the team, according to Grant. He, along with any other member of the program that is asked about it, notes the change in the overall demeanor of the team. 

After a 2-10, it is easy for there to be a depressing aura surrounding a team. But Ash was persistent in burying last season and all that went wrong in his first year as the head coach.

Since the final game of 2016, Ash added a multitude of graduate transfers to bolster the offense, signed a historic recruiting class and built a new brand-new practice facility.

That spearheaded the change in attitude around the program and helped the players realize that there is no point in dwelling on the past.

"We weren't really together. This year I think it's real different," Grant said. "I think we're stronger, we're building each and every day... I think were gonna change a lot of people's eyes and minds and thoughts about this (team)."

One way to change the perception of the program is for Grant to return one more kick for a touchdown, as that would give him the NCAA record for return touchdowns in a career. A record that would likely stand for a while as kickoffs become less and less a part of the game.

Not only will Grant do whatever it takes for that record, he will do whatever it takes to help his team win in his final season of college football. He is determined to have a successful season and according to him, nothing can get in his way.

"I just got the heart of a lion, honestly."

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GriffinWhitmer and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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