DADE CITY — He is there.
Then he is not.
He is down, then he’s up.
He is left, then right.
Fast, then slow.
Inside, then outside, then inside again.
He is like a ghost. You swear you see him. You reach out for him. But he’s not there.
Was he ever?
“He’s just different than everybody else,’’ says defensive star Joey Ivie.
Even Pasco High School senior Janarion Grant doesn’t have the words for it.
It comes from within, he says. Nothing’s planned. He just does what he does.
“It’s my inner beastmode,” is how he describes the silky sequence of steps that leave opponents grasping for air.
“It’s pretty hard to describe,” he says.
But let’s try anyway.
• • •
During one practice last week, Grant’s teammates and coaches compared him, at different times, to high school stars Sony Michel and Kelvin Taylor, college star Tavon Austin, NFL star Reggie Bush and Pro Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders.
For others, there is no one to compare to.
“He doesn’t remind me of anybody, but if I had to pick anybody I’ve ever coached here, he’d be my first pick,” said Pasco offensive coordinator Brad Starling, who gets the treat of calling plays for Grant tonight when the Pirates take on Gainesville Eastside in the Class 5A region semifinals.
Grant missed the first six games of the season with an injury.
In the five he has played — at running back, wide receiver and wildcat — Grant has accounted for 17 touchdowns five ways — on offense, defense and special teams.
“That is ridiculous,” said wide-grinning running back David Emmanuel.
And because Grant has done so in such spectacular and convincing fashion, he is being touted for Player of the Year, despite playing just four regular-season games.
Ridiculous. Or logical?
In four years at Pasco, Grant has scored more than 60 touchdowns. Half of those will be remembered for the breathtaking way he did it.
That’s how his teammates say they measure his greatness. They don’t know how many touchdowns, or yards, Grant has.
They define their best player by moments, many that will be shared years from now.
“I’ll be telling my grandkids to Google him,” said kicker Brandon Ray.
The little Rays can watch the time Grant broke seven tackles on a touchdown against Fivay in his first game back this year.
“He defied the laws of physics,’’ said lineman Jacob Morphew.
There were the times he leapt over three defenders to make a catch on fourth down in triple overtime, blew by eight defenders who had him surrounded on a punt return, returned an interception 106 yards in a playoff game and tricked that one Division I safety from Miami into falling on his face.
“A Division I kid making another Division I kid look stupid,” said Ivie. “Now that was something.”
You reach for him.
But he’s not there.
He is a ghost.
“Skills from the man above,” says teammate Jajuan Henry.
“Mucho Talento,’’ says lineman Estevan Perez.
It is a rare gift, one that cannot be put into words, that needs to be seen to be believed or even understood.
“I’ve seen him slow down to just a creep, sometimes to set things up, to bait guys into a position where we can then make them miss,” Starling said. “And he can make guys that are behind him miss. It’s this uncanny awareness of where everyone is on the field.”
Emmanuel says it’s in his blood. Grant’s uncles, Troy and Darren Hambrick, were celebrated for leading Pasco to the 1992 state championship before playing in the NFL.
But Grant is different. His uncles were powerful runners, while Grant is more lithe.
Troy prided himself on running over tackles.
Grant runs through them.
Like a ghost.
“It’s been like being able to create your own player on Madden and having him on your (real-life) team,” said defensive end Morgan Flournory.
He says he’d make Grant a 99, but only because the game doesn’t let you rate any higher.
Pasco coach Tom McHugh says Grant is the complete package.
He has outstanding peripheral vision, sees the cut before anyone else and is a master at altering his speed.
“It’s amazing. I’ll say to him, ‘Do you ever run as fast as you can?’ And he’ll say, ‘No, I run as fast as I need to to get where I’m going.’ ”
Last spring, after winning the state long jump championship for the second straight season, McHugh asked him how he did that.
“I just watched everybody else jump, and then I went and jumped a little further,” Grant told him.
When you’re that good, sometimes it’s that simple.
• • •
Grant has 11 college offers, the biggest of which come from USF, West Virginia and Iowa State.
He wonders, sometimes, where the bigger schools are. Where the rest of the state schools are.
McHugh simply throws up his hands.
“You tell me,” he asks.
Grant is 5 feet 9 inches, 165 pounds. Too small, he has been told.
It was the same thing Largo’s Dexter McCluster was told, and Lakewood’s Bernard Reedy, too. One is now in the NFL, the other is on his way.
Grant is the same size both were as high school athletes, with the same skill set, and then some.
He has the bloodlines, and comes from the deep talent pool in Lacoochee.
“I guess the bigger schools still haven’t got the memo,” he says.
And of all the great ones that have come through Dade City, they say Grant is the best.
He has averaged 9.7 yards a carry, 20 yards a catch, rushed for more than 2,000, and is just 12 yards short of doing the same receiving.
He has been a nightmare to opposing teams on special teams.
“The kid does stuff that no one else can,” McHugh says.
The debate takes place Friday nights. In the stands. On the radio, even.
“We talked about it last week,” said John Edwards, who has called Pirate games on the radio for 18 years. “With everything he does — offense, defense, special teams — he’s the best player that I’ve seen come through here.”
Even Grant has heard the debate. Considering his competition is family, he lives it.
“It makes me feel very proud of myself,” he said. “There’s people watching me, letting me know I’m doing a great job. I don’t really like to brag, but people say I am the best because they’ve never seen anyone else do what I do on the field. And that just makes me smile and laugh.”
Grant may say the things he does on the football field are indescribable, but he’s not exactly right.
There’s just no one word, no one phrase.
Maybe Starling does it better than anyone, when he says Pasco has had better running backs. Better quarterbacks. Better wide receivers.
“But,” he says, pausing, “we’ve never had a Janarion.”