Canzano: A walk-on story worth celebrating
Plus... Pac-12 insiders irked with Kevin Warren's comments.
CORVALLIS — Jaydon Grant might be the best story in the Pac-12 Conference. The Oregon State captain was named to the pre-season, all-conference team on Tuesday.
Grant arrived at OSU as a walk-on.
He’s seen some stuff. Gary Andersen ditched the program midseason. Interim coach Cory Hall came in and lasted a blink. Now, Grant is playing for head coach Jonathan Smith and is on his fourth defensive coordinator in seven seasons.
I’ve spent some time around Grant in the last year. He joined me once a week last football season on my statewide radio show. We met at a coffee shop a couple of times, too, and just talked about life. (I drink coffee. Grant orders hot chocolate.)
The natural inclination is to describe Jaydon Grant as “son of former NBA player Brian Grant.” That’s fine. It’s accurate. His father was a fan-favorite and an inspiring force on the basketball court. But when I ask Jaydon about his competitive drive, he always brings up his mother, Gina.
“My mom,” he told me, “is where I get my fire.”
Gina is a former NBA dancer and one of the top global Zumba fitness instructors and advocates. She travels the world teaching instructors, making media appearances, and could write a book about her experience as an entrepreneur. Her son has emerged as a businessman and networker himself.
Jaydon Grant met weekly with state lawmakers during the early part of the pandemic. He helped shape Oregon’s new NIL (name, image, likeness) laws. He’s been an outspoken social advocate. He secured endorsement deals with several companies, including Jamba and is excited about a design collaboration with Portland Gear that will be released this football season. Amid that, he’s played football at OSU at a level few thought he’d achieve.
Grant didn’t even play the sport until his final year of high school. Former NFL defensive back Alex Molden was coaching the secondary at West Linn High when Grant — a basketball player — decided a week into fall camp that he wanted to try out.
“I thought he wouldn’t last,” Molden told me. “He came out and he couldn’t even put the pads on. But once he did, he could really hit. He was lost at first, but got better every day. He put in the work and became a football player.”
For that reason, Grant’s name jumped off the page of the 2022 Preseason All-Pac-12 Conference Football Team this week. The walk-on nobody saw coming is now regarded as one of the best eight defensive backs in the league. I don’t know where it goes from here for Jaydon Grant. But I’d caution you on betting against him.
Last Thanksgiving, I asked Grant where he was spending the holiday. The annual rivalry game with Oregon was scheduled for a couple of days later in Eugene. I figured Grant might lay low in Corvallis or make a drive to see his family on that Thursday. Turns out, he had a date in hostile territory instead.
Grant is dating Anthony Newman’s daughter, Daelyn. He spent last Thanksgiving at the Newman home. The former Oregon Duck great and 12-year NFL veteran now finds himself giving coaching points to one of Oregon State’s star defensive players. They met on Sundays during the summer for weekly training and technique sessions.
“It’s the strangest thing for me,” Newman told me in June. “I used to hate the Beavers. I hated them. But I love that kid. He’s just such a great kid. Now, when I’m watching the Ducks and Beavers play, I’m sitting there rooting for my team — Oregon — and also, I’m rooting for Jaydon to play well.
“My loyalties are all twisted up.”
Newman slapped my back and laughed so hard when he said that. Grant was just a few feet away, eavesdropping, and grinning. It’s funny how life works.
ALL CONFERENCE TEAMS: USC put 10 players, including transfer quarterback Caleb Williams on the Pac-12’s preseason all-conference teams. That’s either a ton of talent or a lot of Kool-Aid. Maybe some of both. But the prevailing thought is that the Trojans have enough talent to contend in Lincoln Riley’s first season.
A few other thoughts…
• Cam Rising, the Utah QB, made second team. I’m curious to see if Rising can out-play USC’s Williams this season. Utes offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig did a sensational job of putting Rising in position to succeed in 2021.
• Oregon put eight players on the all-conference teams, including two first-team offensive lineman. But it’s the Ducks’ defense (including stars Noah Sewell, Brandon Dorius, Christian Gonzalez, Justin Flowe) that I’m most interested to see play this season.
• I’d be surprised if Utah tight end Dalton Kinkaid doesn’t get all-conference votes by the end of the season.
• The Utes have both Brant Kuithe and Kincaid at TE. I can’t decide which I think will have the better NFL career. The two combined for 86 receptions, 1,121 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 2021. Good problem to have if you’re Utah.
• Strange seeing “Travis Dye, USC” listed among the conference’s best players. Dye made the all-conference second team and was arguably the Ducks’ best offensive weapon last season. He’ll be dangerous catching passes out of the backfield in the USC offense.
• Washington State had zero offensive players listed among the Pac-12’s first and second-team honors. With the return of the Air Raid offense and addition of transfer QB Cam Ward, I can’t see that being the case at the end of this season.
GRANDSTANDING: Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren did a fair bit of grandstanding as part of the conference media day on Tuesday. He didn’t do a cartwheel on stage, but he came very close.
Warren spent a good portion of his time touting the Big Ten’s poaching of USC and UCLA. Pac-12 stakeholders weren’t happy about all the horn tooting. Said one conference employee: “The only people happy with the USC/UCLA move are those in the B1G, USC/UCLA and FOX.”
Warren also appeared to take a shot at the Pac-12 when he was asked about expansion and the health of college football.
Said Warren: “If a conference is allegedly on the brink, there are many more issues than members leaving. There are deeper issues. I’m not promoting conferences facing a crisis or going out of business, not at all. But I come out of the NFL for 21 years. In the NFL, either you succeed or you fail, and that's not only on the field. I’m talking about in business, operationally. Either you have your fan base or you don’t.”
The Pac-12’s biggest problem is its media rights deal. The conference has advantageous geography in the Pacific Time Zone. It has good history, strong brands, and it wants very much to matter. But let’s face it — losing USC and UCLA was a gut punch from Warren’s conference. That blow equated to the loss of 5.2 million television households.
How do you replace that if you’re the Pac-12?
I’ve long wondered about San Diego State as a Pac-12 expansion candidate. It would add back 1.1 million TV homes in the Southern California footprint. I also wonder about UNLV as a possible addition.
The Las Vegas television market is only in the top-40 right now, but the region is growing rapidly. There’s a pile of untapped sponsorship money buried in Vegas and commissioner George Kliavkoff lives there and is deeply connected. I’ll bet he rarely pays for a meal.
UNLV might not command a full share of media rights distributions out of the gate. It also plays home football games in the NFL stadium in Las Vegas. It would be a speculative play, for sure, but doubling down on Vegas makes sense.
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