COLUMBUS, Ohio - Throughout fall camp, Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs insisted that the Buckeyes' had three No. 1 corners on their roster.
It didn't take long for Bradley Roby prove he was one of them, earning the team's defensive player of the week award in its season opener. Fifth-year senior Travis Howard also made his mark early, recording three interceptions in OSU's first three games.
With two-thirds of Coombs' statement proven accurate, all he needed was for Doran Grant to be given the opportunity to show that the first-year Buckeyes coach was being 100 percent truthful. And when Roby missed Saturday's game against UAB with a shoulder injury, Grant was finally given his chance to shine.
While he might be the least known of OSU's three No. 1 cornerbacks, Grant did everything he could against the Blazers to prove that he deserves that distinction. Getting the first start of his college career, the true sophomore was all over the field on Saturday, recording seven tackles, one sack, and recovering two turnovers in the Buckeyes' 29-15 win over UAB.
After the game, Grant said that it felt good to prove that he's capable of what Coombs has said he is.
"I've had that confidence since camp. He's been telling us that since spring ball, honestly," Grant said. "I just had to do my part."
With Roby having injured his shoulder in the Buckeyes' previous game against California, the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Grant found out last Wednesday that he'd be starting against the Blazers. But after spending most of his freshman season and the first three games of 2012 on special teams, Grant was ready to show what he can do as a defensive player.
"I was more excited that nervous. I was a little nervous, but I was more excited," Grant said. "It felt like I was finally a part of the team."
If there was any part of Grant that was nervous on Saturday, it wasn't evident. On the first play after the Buckeyes took their first lead of the game, Grant helped childhood friend and OSU safety Christian Bryant flip UAB tight end Kennard Blackman, knocking the ball loose in the process. By the end of the play, the ball was secured in the Buckeye corner's hands.
"I was covering No. 8 and came in for the tackle. I looked up and seen the ball spinning," Grant explained. "The ball was on the ground, I just tried to get it."
The St. Vincent-St. Mary high school product made his second big play of the game at the end of the third quarter when he chased Blazers quarterback Austin Brown out of bounds to record his first career sack, which resulted in an eight-yard loss for UAB.
"Just a corner blitz. I seen the tight end and the fullback release, that kind of slowed me up, but then I just chased after the quarterback until he ran out of bounds," Grant said. "You gotta make plays."
No play was bigger for Grant, however, than his first career interception. With five minutes left in the game and UAB with the chance to cut OSU's lead to one score, Grant stepped in front of a Brown pass attempt to seal the game for the Buckeyes and create a moment that he's been waiting more than a year for.
"I did what I had to do and the defense played well. We had a good rush from the defensive line, the quarterback threw it up," Grant said of the interception. "It felt good. All the older guys, the veterans, showed me a lot of love and appreciation for it and I appreciate those guys and the rest of the team."
Among the players impressed by Grant's play on Saturday was Bryant, who's known the Akron native since they ran track together in northeast Ohio when the two were in middle school.
"He knew all week he was going to have to step in and make some plays," Bryant said of Grant. "I feel like Doran did an incredible day today just stepping in for Roby."
With more than a year on campus and finally a meaningful game under his belt, Grant feels as though he has a good grasp on what he needs to continue to do to get consistent playing time. And now that he's gotten a taste of it, he's only hungry for more.
"I feel like I've grown a lot. Just knowing the game, understanding the game more, certain coverages and everything is way different than high school," Grant said. "You've just gotta earn your keep. Just gotta earn your playing time and the respect from the older guys and the coaches, all the players, and just do what you gotta do."