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Larry Grant: Next Man Up

Posted Dec 6, 2011

Larry Grant’s phone, Twitter and email accounts have been filling up with messages recently and it’s for a pretty good reason.

Grant, a Bay Area native, knows first-hand how important San Francisco’s clinching of the NFC West was for the team’s Faithful fans on Sunday. It also didn’t hurt that Grant filled in for injured linebacker Patrick Willis, posting five tackles, two tackles-for-loss and one sack against his former team, the St. Louis Rams.

Those who know Grant best weren’t surprised to see him do it. They know him to be a hard worker, ready to capitalize at a moment’s notice.

“You never know when opportunity is going to come,” Grant said days after the most defensive action he’s seen all year. “Preparation during the week and the weeks before, it makes a big difference.”

Thanks to his prep work, Grant enjoyed a stellar performance against familiar foes in a big-game environment. To him and his loved ones, it meant a great deal. Perhaps it meant even more so to do it for a 49ers organization that originally made him a seventh-round draft pick out of Ohio State University in 2008.

Grant didn’t make the final roster cuts that season and was quickly claimed by the Rams where he played the last three seasons. Grant went on to start in eight games for St. Louis last season, totaling 23 tackles and 2.0 sacks.

But when it came time for the 6-foot-1, 251-pound linebacker to sign with a new team over the recently shortened offseason, Grant was eager to prove himself once more in San Francisco.

Grant starred at City College of San Francisco, where he won the 2005 NCJA Defensive Player of the Year award. He also played for Sacramento’s Foothill High School.

So in Grant’s mind, coming home was the best option.

“I told myself a long time ago, I wanted to be a Niner,” Grant said. “I got drafted here which was good, but unfortunately I had to go the other way. But there was no second thought when I got the phone call from the 49ers saying they wanted to bring me in here. There was no second thought at all.”

Since signing with the 49ers, Grant’s impact has been especially significant on special teams, where he’s totaled five tackles on one of the league’s best coverage units.

Grant’s presence was felt even more this past Sunday when Willis went down with an early injury. The 49ers rush defense held Steven Jackson to 19 yards on 10 carries. And best of all, Grant cemented the strong day with a helmetless tackle on Jackson.

Grant showed no fear in tackling his former teammate, though he now has a nice-sized scratch below his right eye to serve as a reminder of it.

The big play was well worth it, and even earned praise the next day by Grant’s head coach.

“I was very impressed with Larry’s play,” Jim Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly address. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Larry Grant as a football player.

“I thought he played outstanding. You could hear his play in the ball game yesterday.”

And in turn, Grant heard it from his family and friends soon after.

“My family is here in the Bay Area and I have a lot of friends here, too,” Grant said. “Being around those people and seeing how happy they are, how much life we’ve put into the city of San Francisco, it’s a great feeling.”

Perhaps, the best feeling was greeting former St. Louis teammates at midfield as an NFC West champ.

“They were happy for me, happy I got a chance to play, happy to see me,” Grant said. “It’s always good to play against a former team and to get a win.”

The success all comes back to preparation.

Being the next man up as far as middle linebackers are concerned, Grant, a fourth-year player, has become adept at getting himself ready to play throughout the week.

His coaching staff notices it, too.

“I think everybody understands that Larry is an outstanding football player,” Harbaugh said. “Larry puts a lot into this on a daily basis. We see him every day. In fact, we see him sometimes on Tuesdays. Larry’s out there getting extra reps on Tuesday. He’s just been fantastic all year long.”

Grant has even taken the time to work on long snapping in the event that long snapper Brian Jennings were to get injured in a game. Grant spends time weekly with special teams coordinator Brad Seely going over the details of snapping.

Such instances show to Harbaugh how much Grant puts into his craft.

“He’s not a talkative guy when it comes to being a self promoter or anything like that,” Harbaugh noted. “He just consistently plays hard, hustles, plays physical. Takes a lot of pride in his own personal performance. You see it every day from our standpoint. You expect it.”

So if Willis is unable to play against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers are confident in Grant playing well in place of the four-time Pro Bowler.

Grant, himself, is treating it just like any other week.

“I don’t expect anything to really change inside our meeting room,” Grant said. “I’m going to prepare the same way I’ve been preparing. Of course there’s a possibility I might be playing a little more, but I think it’ll be the same kind of game plan. I’m going to be focused the same way.”

And if Grant performs the way he did against the Rams, he already knows there will be an outpouring of support from his friends and family.

“Not only am I a player, but I’m a fan of the San Francisco 49ers,” Grant said. “The way they feel, I feel the same way.”

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