Commentary: Give thanks for Grimes

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November 29, 2011

1:20 AM

It’s somewhat fitting that on his last play from scrimmage for William and Mary, senior running back Jonathan Grimes helped the Tribe find the endzone for the go-ahead score without even touching the ball. There were just six seconds remaining in the game, the Tribe was down 23-19 with a fourth down and goal from the Richmond 2 yard line.

“We kind of thought that they would hand it to Grimes,” Richmond head coach Wayne Lineburg said. “As good a player as he is, we thought he would try to get two yards.”

Instead, the senior — who has spent his time with the Tribe doing whatever’s been asked of him; running, kick returning, receiving and blocking — remained in the backfield and stoned Richmond defensive end Jacob Pierce, who has about a 50 pound weight advantage, giving sophomore quarterback Brent Caprio just enough time to hit junior tight end Nolan Kearney for the touchdown and end the College’s 2011 campaign with a 25-23 victory.

Of course, it would all be less fitting if Grimes hadn’t set up the touchdown pass with a four-yard run — a feat as familiar as the black elbow pads on either side of his no. 34 jersey — or if he wasn’t the reason the College was even in the game to begin with; Grimes carried 39 times for 207 yards and a touchdown in the win.

And so it was that one of the most impressive careers ever played out in a Tribe uniform came to an end Nov. 19, but not without the senior putting some final touches on the William and Mary record books he’d been re-writing since 2008, when he set the school’s freshman rushing record with 929 yards on 164 carries.
Grimes’ 39 carries against Richmond set a new single-game school record, and his 207 yards gave him 1,431 for the season, breaking the previous single-season school record of 1,408 set by Robert Green in 1990. Back in 2008 he broke the school’s career all-purpose yards record, and earlier this season he became the College’s leading career rusher.

After the win at Richmond, head coach Jimmye Laycock, who has coached Grimes as well as other great Tribe running backs like Derek Fitzgerald and Alvin Porch, was asked to put Grimes’s career in perspective.

“We don’t have enough time. I would love to but it wouldn’t do it justice, trying to [encapsulate] it here right now,” Laycock said, tearing up. “He has had a fantastic career, and I mean there’s no way to describe it. We’ll miss him.”

For a coach who will never be known for excessive displays of emotion, it was a touching moment.
Always the team player, Grimes himself opted to talk about how big the win was for the team.

“It’s just an awesome feeling,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t won the last game [of the season]. But now we’re going out on a win, and it’s been a tough season. This is something that the team next year can build off of and it was just a good win for the school and a good win for coach.”

Laycock has said that nobody tops Grimes’s work ethic. Coaches would have to take the back off the field during practice for fear of wearing him out because he had one gear: full speed. It’s what allowed him to rack up such incredible numbers over his four seasons at the College. He’s never had blinding speed or bruising strength — the media guide has him listed at 5’10”, 201 pounds — but he’s always picked up a hunk of his yardage after contact, never going down easily and never stepping out of bounds.

“Jon plays like that every snap. Every snap of every game, every snap of practice,” Laycock said.

It’s how you become the best player in the CAA — a conference in which the spotlight and attention is limited — and the greatest back in the history of William and Mary — a school where athletics are more often than not on the periphery. Grimes has never demanded the praise and glorification BCS players regularly get, though he clearly could’ve held his own in the more prestigious division. He has worked hard in every practice and every game — whether in the semifinal round of the NCAA playoffs or the waning minutes of the Tribe’s 21-0 loss to Delaware this year (a game in which Grimes had a part of his ear ripped off in the earlygoing, took one series off and then got back to action despite the lost cause).

Whenever he scored, the ball went right to the referee and the credit to his offensive line. He epitomized the term “class act”.

It’s why we can all just hope to see him playing next season on Sundays. Personally, I’d love for him to join former Tribe great Adrian Tracy with my hometown Giants.

But regardless of where he lands in 2012, during this holiday season, we should all be thankful for getting to watch him play. Like Laycock said, we’ll miss him.

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