August 4, 2020

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Punt returner a Stampede-buster

Bombers headed back to Calgary, and they're bringing Grant with them

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2019 (270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrive in Calgary this weekend, Janarion Grant will not receive a hero’s welcome.

In fact, it’s unlikely anyone from there will be happy to see him.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>It didn’t take long for Winnipeg Blue Bombers punt returner Janarion Grant to make a name for himself — he’s been key to two victories over the Calgary Stampeders.</p>

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files

It didn’t take long for Winnipeg Blue Bombers punt returner Janarion Grant to make a name for himself — he’s been key to two victories over the Calgary Stampeders.

That’s because the Bombers have taken down the Calgary Stampeders twice this season and Grant’s fingerprints were all over those victories.

Grant made his CFL debut Aug. 8 at IG Field against the Stamps and it didn’t take long for the punt returner to make a name for himself. On his second touch of the game, Grant broke loose for a 76-yard punt-return touchdown. His dazzling debut was only getting started, as he also scored on an 83-yard return in the second quarter. Grant finished with 306 combined yards and led the Blue and Gold to a 26-24 victory.

In the Bombers’ regular-season finale two weeks ago, Grant continued his dominance over the Stamps. He found the end zone again, although this time, not for a touchdown.

Grant hauled in a missed Rene Paredes convert attempt in the third quarter and took it 122 yards to the house to give the Bombers two points. Considering the score ended up 29-28 in Winnipeg’s favour, those two points made all the difference. Grant also made Paredes pay on a 47-yard missed field goal, returning the ball 61 yards before he was pulled down (by the hair) by Calgary’s Mike Rose.

"I wish it was a big six instead of two points, but that’s what we needed to win the game at the end of the day," Grant told the Free Press after Thursday’s practice at IG Field.

"Special teams play a big role. You know, it’s just like offence and defence because anything can happen on any play at any moment."

Paredes, who’s made 43 of 52 field-goal attempts this season, was not in peak form in Winnipeg on Oct. 25. He’ll likely need to be better on Sunday when the Stamps host the Bombers in the West Division semifinal. But when Paredes steps up for a kick, it won’t be easy to ignore the fact that if he misses, chances are Grant will be there to capitalize.

"They’re itching back there," Grant said about opposing kickers when he’s on the field. "They like, ‘Damn, if I hit it wrong one time, it could get taken back for a big play.’"

Grant leads the CFL with three punt-return TDs. His return average of 14.4 yards per punt is second-best in the league out of players who have at least 20 returns on the year.

Grant, a 25-year-old who suited up for two games with the Baltimore Ravens last year, is only 11 games into his CFL career, but Bombers kicker Justin Medlock is already sold on him. He compared him to Brandon Banks, one of the most electrifying players in the league, and a teammate of Medlock’s during his time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"I feel like Janarion is the best special-teams player in this league," Medlock said. "He can dominate a game. I think he can take us to the Grey Cup. I’m always constantly in his ear. I love the guy. He’s a scary returner. I’m sure on that side, they’re probably thinking about him a lot. If you’re a coach, you probably don’t want him to dictate this game."

What makes Grant such a unique talent?

"He gets it. I’m always constantly in his ear. So, he kind of knows where to catch the ball. But also, too, he’s so shifty and he hits it north and plays bigger than he looks," Medlock said. "He’s actually kind of a small guy. I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t know how he’s really going to do.’ He’s shifty, but man, he hits it and if we can just block for him and give him a chance — I mean, he almost hit one against Sask., almost hit another against Calgary, almost hit one against Montreal, just a little bit here and there and you’re talking like five touchdowns. It’s a no-brainer, right? He’s a great player."

You’d have to think Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson has seen enough of Grant and will put special emphasis on trying to keep the ball out of his hands. On punts, there’s really only two options. You can try to punt the ball out of bounds or you sacrifice some distance and focus on getting hang time, giving the cover team more time to get to Grant.

Grant said he noticed Calgary was doing the latter in their last meeting, but this time around, he might have something up his sleeve.

"I have a little tactic that I’m going to do. I’m not going to say it yet, but I’ve been working on it and everything," Grant said.

"I know they’re trying to get their team to cover better and everything. So, I’m just trying to do my best to not be covered."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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