When freshman tailback Jonathan Grimes first set foot on the College of William and Mary campus in early July, the New Jersey native envisioned a rookie campaign filled with standout accolades.
“I just put it together in my head that I was going to redshirt because I was on the scout team,” Grimes said. “I was thinking about maybe getting some scout team player-of-the-week [awards].”
Four months later, Grimes has followed through on that goal; however, instead of making his contributions in practice, the freshman has earned a slew of honors at the conference and national level.
A triple threat that can contribute as a rusher, receiver and kick returner, Grimes has placed himself among the brightest stars of a resurgent Tribe football program, twice garnering nods as the CAA rookie of the week in addition to other awards.
Six games into the season, the freshman has totaled 721 total yards rushing and receiving, while accumulating seven touchdowns and a team-high 25 catches.
“Grimes has just been a blessing for us; he’s been a spark,” senior wideout Elliott Mack said. “You don’t often see too many freshmen come in and not only play, but be as good as he has been so far.”
Upon coming to the College, Grimes was fresh off a glittering varsity career at Paul VI Catholic High School, a New Jersey regional football powerhouse.
However, when summer practice began, Grimes found himself buried on the depth chart as a lowly freshman. Enrolled in the PLUS summer school program, he prepared himself for a season of work spent mostly on the sidelines in anticipation of a redshirt freshman year.
“When practice started I wasn’t really getting any reps, I was just learning everything,” Grimes said. “Then guys started getting hurt and one thing led to the next.”
The freshman suddenly found himself catapulted up the depth chart after preseason injuries to veteran runners senior DeBrian Holmes and sophomore Courtland Marriner. In the College’s second preseason scrimmage, Grimes was listed as the backup tailback.
“It was the most carries I had gotten and the most playing time so far,” he said. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘Be safe.’ With people going down I just didn’t want to get hurt.”
The freshman’s effort was enough to boost him into the offense at the start of the season. After a decent performance in the Tribe’s opener, Grimes broke out against Virginia Military Institute, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries; he was named the CAA player of the week.
One week later, Grimes reached the end zone twice, this time against Norfolk State University, totaling 91 yards rushing and receiving. After returning a kick for a touchdown against Villanova University and being named The Sports Network’s national special teams player of the week, the freshman had cemented his position as both the College’s primary back and as one of the most dangerous playmakers in the CAA.
“Jonathan is a complete running back,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “He does everything you want a running back to do, and the thing I like about him is that he does it every time.”
His teammates agree.
“I am just in awe of the way he plays,” junior defensive end C.J. Herbert said. “He’s got great balance and a great mixture of speed, quickness and agility. I’m just happy he’s on my side.”
While many freshmen struggle with the transition between high school and college, Grimes has adjusted with ease.
“You just have to get used to peoples’ playing styles and gain the team’s confidence,”
he said. “You want your line and everybody to believe in you and that just makes them go a little harder.”
Key to Grimes’s early success is the freshman’s reduced workload at the college level. After playing both sides of the ball in high school, lining up at safety on defense while returning kicks, and serving as the star running back, Grimes’s College career is proving far less hectic.
“In high school, I used to get a little winded, but now I just put all my efforts on offense, so you’ve got to make it count when you’re in there,” he said. “It’s less to remember in your mind and less [impact] on your body.”
That factor and Grimes’s devotion to the weight room have combined to keep him fresh. Also aiding the freshman’s transition is the help he receives from the squad’s other tailbacks. Holmes and Marriner, once starters and now Grimes’s backups, have actively advised the freshman while maturely harboring no bitterness over their loss of playing time.
“They’re real supportive. They are the older backs so if I don’t know something, they’ve been around,” Grimes said. “They understand that I’m still young and they’ve been a good resource. They didn’t really change on me [from before I was the starter].”
It was partially that support that allowed Grimes to be ready when those in front of him went down.
“Just the fact [that he was] able to step in and not miss anything has been huge,” senior quarterback Jake Phillips said. “You could definitely tell in the summer, whether it was running or lifting, that he had a sense of confidence about him.”
Most exciting for Tribe fans, Grimes might not have yet shown his full potential — at least not according to him.
“I think I’ve had some decent games, but I don’t think I’ve had the breakout game yet. I think it’s going to come,” he said.
If the past three months are any indication, a few more awards should follow as well.