Despite a very busy schedule and recently moving to Colorado, John Grant Jr gave me some of his time the week before the Colorado Mammoth played the Philadelphia Wings for a second time in a week. As many lacrosse fans know, he holds several records and awards across several lacrosse leagues.Â I was really glad I got the opportunity to sit down and chat with him.
MD: How are you finding Denver?
JG: I think it’s pretty amazing to be honest. I was a little worried the day before I flew in it was a bad, bad snow storm a couple weeks ago. But every day since it’s been in the 40’s and 50’s. Can’t complain. It’s been -27 back home. Being this high, I thought it would snow all the time. I mean, until you actually deal with it yourself, you never know. I always thought people just, everyone always exaggerates how awesome their home town is, right?
MD: You did actually move here, right?
JG: I have moved here. I moved here earlier in the season, but I couldn’t stay. My daughter had an ear infection so she couldn’t fly. So had to fly home for a week, tend to her and then I moved back here. I’ve basically been here the whole month of January.
MD: What made you decide to move to Denver?
JG: Well, I was traded here and I really like living in the city I play in. I think it’s better for the team as far as community relations go. I feel more comfortable, you know, kind of, just playing here and you know being here. I don’t know. It’s something I did in Rochester. And obviously I wasn’t going to live in Rochester while I was playing here. I thought it was a good opportunity to see a great place and I wasn’t really tied down with any other work right now so I thought it was a good time to come out and give Colorado a try.
MD: I’ve noticed a difference in play for the players who live and play here with the altitude. Have you noticed that impact on yourself?
JG: Oh, the first game, yeah, definitely. Especially the first quarter. I felt like someone was holding me under water the whole time. But, the longer I’ve been here and now that I’m kind of training here and stuff, it’s become less of a, I don’t even notice it now. The first I think, two weeks I was here I was probably drinking like three gallons of water a day, which I never drink really drink water, which is probably wrong being an athlete but, you know, just always dehydrated and dry, and short of breath, but I’m completely acclimated to it now and don’t really notice it.
MD: What about Denver have you been most surprised about?
JG: Well, first and foremost the weather. I don’t even think I’ve even worn my coat yet. But just, how clean the city is and everyone just seems so happy and fit. And I think that’s probably because of the sun. I mean, where I come from, everyone just basically bundles up for four months because it’s so miserable cold you don’t ever want to go outside. I’ve noticed everyone biking and walking and even myself, instead of getting in the car and driving I just kinda get the running shoes on and go for a walk or go for a jog. I think so far, the atmosphere and the weather which I think definitely go hand in hand.
MD: What about the fans and the Pepsi Center?
JG: I mean, that’s something, playing against them, I knew the place was pretty raucous to begin with. I was excited to come here and have them cheer for me as opposed to 18,000 people booing me out of the barn. It was something I knew was going to happen, was going to be the case. So it wasn’t like a huge surprise to me, I’ve played down here a couple of times. But that’s definitely another advantage to being with the Mammoth. The fan support that we get, at the Pepsi Center and I mean just the way people in Colorado treat their sports teams. It definitely makes it more worthwhile to be a professional athlete, that’s for sure.
MD: Your father was a well known lacrosse player in his own right. How does it feel to follow in his footsteps?
JG: That’s what I did growing up. I followed him around like a shadow. You know, growing up, pro lacrosse wasn’t really a big deal, so you know, it wasn’t like, not. It was something obviously I always wanted to do, second behind playing in the NHL, but what Canadian kid doesn’t think that? But you know, basically I got some high school and I realized there was a possibility lacrosse could take me down steps further for a scholarship so that was the most important thing, and then you know, pro lacrosse was there and then it started to really grow into what it is now right around the time I was in college. I kinda caught, got in at the right time where I got drafted and the league kinda picked up, got to ten teams. It’s kinda the league it is now. So I’ve been very fortunate and I owe everything about my lacrosse career to my father. He was my idol growing up and I’m sure he’s excited to see me play as well.
MD: Was there ever a time you didn’t want to play lacrosse?
JG: No, I don’t think so. I think, uh, he tells a story of when I was in tykes, 4, 5, 6 years old where I pretended to be sick to my mom so I didn’t have to go to practice but what he says is that everyone else had just begun playing so guys couldn’t catch and throw and I guess at 5 I was really bored with practices cause I was already doing that, basically since birth. So I don’t remember ever not wanting to play, but that’s the only kind of incident that he remembers. It’s basically all I did when I was a kid. The stick was basically a third arm. I’ve always been playing and I just feel blessed that I’m able to do it professionally and I hope to do that for four or five more years.
MD: What do you like most about playing lacrosse?
JG: You know, that’s a tough, you know what, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. I love everything about it. I mean, I love how rough it is. Obviously scoring goals is something I love. I love you know seeing the expression on a teammate’s face when he does something beneficial for the team. I love seeing the look in a young kid’s eyes when they haven’t seen something before. You can just tell, you see the look of awe on a fan’s face. I love just being on a team. If I wasn’t playing pro lacrosse I’d be playing lacrosse in some league or sport, any sport, some sort of league. Just the camaraderie, just, battling with teammates for a common goal is something I find exhilarating. I’m gonna be playing some kind of sport until the day I die. To call yourself a professional is definitely the icing on the cake when it comes to that.
MD: Who’s your favorite team to play against?
JG: Good one. It was the Mammoth because I loved coming to Denver and playing in the Pepsi Center. But now that I’m a Mammoth, I really look forward to playing the Knighthawks down the road. But you know, now that it’s kinda a new career for me since I just started, I look forward to playing Philly, I always do. That’s where my dad played, so I’m pretty excited to go to Philly this weekend and battle them again. That was usually one of the biggest games of the year for me and one I get pretty jacked up for and itâ€™s going to be no different now that I’m playing for a Western Coast, er Western Division team. I think with just what’s going on with our team right now being 1-2 I think this is a huge game for us so I think everyone is going to be extra fired up for this one. You know, always in the back of my mind is, like in Philly, the fans are very smart, are very intelligent of the history of the game, so there’ll be a lot of signs – “Junior Sucks”, “Your Dad Was Better” lot of, you know, there’s a lot of stuff. They’re pretty wily fans and get right in your face so it makes it extra special when you win there but it also makes it awfully tough when you lose there because they get right on you.
MD: What team to you hate to play against?
JG: I’d have to probably say the Rock. They’ve beaten me in two NLL Championships and I think two NLL semi-finals so obviously they have my number and they have the Knighthawks number. They’re always a team, I mean, I actually relish playing them because of that, but I’d have to say they’re the team that’s broken my heart the most so I have to say them.
MD: If you could go back and tell your younger self something you’ve learned, what would it be?
JG: Train harder. You know, I spent so much time just playing lacrosse, I never trained when I was younger, you know, the way the young guys train today with you know, in the gym, plyometrics, and just all the great stuff we’re learning about your body and nutrition. It wasn’t something I concentrated on I just basically worked so hard on making my stick skills great but if I was able to go back in time, that was something I would definitely do and it probably would’ve helped me not accumulate the injuries I have. That’s what I tell a lot of the young people when I’ve had camps. Keep your body, your body is your best weapon, it’s not your stick, it’s your body. If you can keep that finely tuned you’re going to have a long career and lot of success.
MD: No one can argue your skill on the field, but it seems you’re quite the polarizing player. You have a bit of a negative reputation and a temper. There are rumors that you’ve insulted and flipped off fans, mooned people and even pulled down your shorts. How would you respond to that?
JG: Well, as far as the temper, I won’t deny that. As the guys at the Golf Galaxy in Rochester can attest to, I come in with clubs in half at times. It’s something I’ve definitely worked on. I’m my own worst critic and I always have been. I get down on myself way more than any fan could. But you know, there’s times where I’ve let it get the better of me. Some things have definitely been taken out of context and misconstrued and you know, that’s what, I’ve put myself in certain positions. I just chalk that up to being younger and not very in control but I’ve put all that stuff behind me and dedicated myself off the field to being an ambassador of the game and I try to do my absolute best to give back to kids and to fans. And you know, that is something that took a little bit but it’s something, I’ve taken great control of and I’m pretty proud to say that I think I’m a great player off the floor for fans to encounter. Before I was pretty, pretty I’d say antisocial, a little bit insecure, and that was misconstrued as being a snob or whatsoever. And some of the other things, like I said, it got taken out of context and you know, it can happen where some people think they see something and with technology now, it can get around the internet or whatsoever and people don’t know the true story and assume what they’ve heard and run with it. But there’s a time where you gotta realize, my mom used to say when I was a kid, ‘keep your temper, no one else wants it’. So I kinda take that advice to heart now and try to keep it to myself as I was told so wisely before to do.
MD: There are definitely still some Denver fans that are upset you’re playing here because of your hit on John Gallant a few years ago. How would you respond to them?
JG: Well, I’m good friends with John Gallant. I actually just spent an hour with him. You know, he was able to forgive and forget. It was something that was in the heat of the moment thing, and I don’t want to belittle what I did. I mean, I was suspended for it, one game for it. But in my defense I take those kind of hits probably 25-30 times a game. You know, it was something I shouldn’t have done and I apologized to him and to both organizations for it. There’s not really a forum for me to get in there to apologize to the fans. It was a one time thing. I’d never really acted out in that sort of aggressive violent way before. It’s something, I’ve always been kinda well known for is, the abuse I take in games is quite well known. And I usually never retaliate. My penalty minutes are usually within 20 in a season. Johnny and I had a long standing history of battling each other in the summer and winter and he took some liberties with me that game and I kinda got back with one something I shouldn’t have done. But it’s the same thing I tell younger kids. You gotta be in control of yourself at all times. One split second of a mistake can cause a lot of problems. Like, I was fortunate he wasn’t injured and I was suspended for one game and could’ve possibly hurt my team for the season. As I try to say, it’s tough to talk about it now because you know, I’ve decided I’d never do it again but you just never know with the game of lacrosse, there’s a lot of heat of the moment stuff that happens. And you know, I regretted it, and I’ve moved on with it. I know Johnny has and I consider ourselves friends and teammates now. But I know, there is a few fans out there still that are still pretty miserable about it Â And you know, in one regard I’m a little bit bothered by it but in the same respect I appreciate that there’s fans that are that loyal to this team, and that knowledgeable about something that happened four, five whatever years ago. It kind of works both ways when you know fans are that loyal and that intelligent. ……. One thing I can do for them is help them win a championship. And that’s what I’m here to do. Hopefully at the end of the season if we hold the trophy above our heads, they might forget about that incident. Who knows.
MD: You were forced to sit out the 2009 season with an injury and subsequent infection. Was it a staph infection?
JG: Yeah, I had bursitis in my elbow. My elbow was the size of a soft ball. And I kept playing throughout the season. I was getting it drained by a doctor before every game and I think some bacteria must’ve got in there from my elbow pads and so I got staph infection, or whatever it’s called when it gets blood borne, it got into the blood stream and like any infection it searches through the body for something foreign and I had a cadaver ACL graft from a previous injury and it went right there and basically turned my ACL in to applesauce and almost killed me. I went from almost, it becoming fatal to almost losing my leg and then I had some great doctors who were able to pull me out of the fire and you know I spent a month in the hospital, three months on antibiotics and four or five months later I put the new ACL back in. You know, some doctors said Iâ€™d never play again, but obviously I enjoy the challenge of proving people and doctors wrong. I’m on my second season back from that and hopefully I can continue to play for four or five more years.
MD How did that experience impact you on and off the field?
JG: It was pretty devastating to be honest. I mean, I’ve had knee surgeries before, I had back surgery in college but you know that was a one night stay at the hospital. 30days, I lost almost 45-50 pounds. I basically turned my phone off, wouldn’t talk to anybody, wouldn’t you know deal with anybody. I’d stop people from coming to visit. You know, when I heard my career was over, I was like, when I originally got put in the hospital that morning I had a game that night. That’s game 7 of the Canadian Eastern Championship and alls I was saying to the doctor was ‘Can I play tonight? Can I play tonight? Can I play tonight?’ So it made me after this whole situation start to realize that there is life out there above and beyond lacrosse. And I’ve never ever lived that way. I’ve never really ever thought that way but it was a truth serum so to speak that you know what, getting closer to the end and I gotta start to worry about friends and family and a life after lacrosse and you know I think part of what made me kind of excel was that I put everything I absolutely had into lacrosse whether I was injured, or not injured and you know, as I said, it almost killed me Â So I learned to be a little smarter and down the road I’m injured and I need to sit out, maybe I will instead of playing through stuff. And hopefully with my coming back and success it can help younger players that are going through similar circumstances and let them realize that you can sit out a bit of time and come back and be fine or if you’re injured sit out like you’re told to do and not try to force it. If my bad luck can help somebody else down the road than that’s part of being a role model as well.
MD: It seems like a lot of expectations and hopes have been placed on your shoulders. How does that impact your play?
JG: It doesn’t. I mean, I know what I’m here to do and I know what the team needs me to do. Their expectations they have will never even match what I have for myself. So for myself, expectations I have as I said before. Doubt is usually stronger than the outside forces so I play every game like it’s a Championship and you know, I will not be happy unless you know we win one. And whether that’s what other people are expecting of me well, I mean I’m not foolish, I know kinda why I’m here. And you know, people think I’m only here for one or two years to try and help them win, well I’m here to tell them I’m gonna be playing a lot longer and I hope to win quite a few. That said, expectations, I mean, I don’t know what, I don’t really remember what it’s like to not have those playing lacrosse it’s just something I’m used to and I just kind of except it and thrive off it.
MD: What expectations do you have for this season?
JG: Same as I have every season. Championship. Anything less is unacceptable. You know, I don’t, at my age now concentrate on personal accolades or scoring titles or MVP trophies or any of that stuff. I mean I’ve had those before and without, and been very unfulfilled with no Championship. The only season I can truly say I was satisfied is 2007 and that’s when I got a ring out of it. So, that’s my goal every season, every time I lace up my shoes. It’s no different here. I’m hungry for another one. It’s been a few years and I’m excited with this bunch of guys we have here. I think we have a great team and we’re on the right track.
MD: Unfortunately, despite a very talented team, the Mammoth are having another rough start. What do you think needs to happen to turn things around?
JG: I think it’s a confidence thing myself. Everyone is getting bogged down with this whole losing streak and I think it’s affecting these guys negatively. I think, guys got to realize we got a great team. It’s a new team. We’ve got a lot of new guys on this team and we’ve got a lot of great guys that have been here before. We gotta focus that, focus on it’s 2011 and we’re one game out of second place and maybe one game out of first in our division. And you know, the wins will come. I mean, the last thing younger guys need is added pressure and I think once we get on a bit of a roll, I think we’re going to be like a snowball rolling downhill. Weâ€™re gonna be tough to stop. I think we’re on the right track. We got a great staff assembled and probably the best coaching staff in the league and I think they’re gonna start steering us in the right direction. And once, as I said, once this team gets on a roll we’re going to be very dangerous to handle.
MD: You were originally drafted by the Buffalo Bandits in â€™95. Do you ever wonder about how different your lacrosse career might have been if youâ€™d signed with them instead of going back to college?
JG: Yeah, I keep forgetting about that. Well, I don’t know it’s tough to say. I mean, I definitely know I made the right decision. I think getting a college education is beyond important and it was one of the best decisions I made was to kind of put lacrosse away and go and get the degree and the league was going to be there when I was back. It was a great decision I made and you know what, who knows what would’ve happened. I’m just glad that I did what I did. Being in Delaware was a great place. I was extremely happy to go down there. I had some good times in Rochester and met some great people, but who knows.
MD: Do you ever regret passing up the opportunity to play regularly on the same offense as John Tavares?
JG: That definitely would’ve been a bit surreal. I mean, he’s definitely one of the two best players to ever play. I was able to play in Rochester for one year with one of them. You know, I got to play with John Tavares this summer. So that’s the one thing I got to check off my list.
MD: How was it for you to play on the Knighthawks with Gary Gait?
JG: Oh, like any kid that gets to play with their idol. It’s a thrill. I was extremely excited to go to the rink. Every time I did it was like a 15 year old, or 13 year old that basically wins a prize. It was like a fantasy draft. I was excited and it’s too bad we didn’t have a good season last year but you know it was definitely a thrill. I mean, I got to play with him before on Team Canada and stuff. So yeah, it was an amazing experience.
MD: Is it kinda strange knowing that most people expected you to retire with the Knighthawks and you’re not?
JG: No, I mean, you gotta put that stuff behind you. Lacrosse is a business. You know, they had to make a move and it just kinda worked out. I was hoping to get here a few years earlier but you know it worked out they needed a young goalie and he wasn’t gonna come out here so it just kinda worked for both parties.
MD: Besides your father, who has had the most impact on you?
JG: His impact is just head and shoulders above anyone else so it’d be tough to say. Obviously I idolized Gary Gait as a young guy. I wanted to go down to school in Gainesville and do a lot of things he did. But you know those things as far as lacrosse as you are well aware probably now by doing this interview lacrosse has been pretty much 98% of my life, so any other influences outside of lacrosse are too minimal to even speak of.
MD: What did you think when Conner Martin approached you to sign with the Conbro Chill Brand?
JG: You know, I think he’s a great guy. And he’s lot of fun to be around. You know, I was impressed with, I was like anyone else I’d see him on the internet and the kind of stuff he’s been doing and everything, it’s funny and I think it’s great for lacrosse. And what people should start to recognize is he’s actually a good player. He’s a hard working guy, got his military degree in a* sport he’d never played before so I know I was quite impressed with the way he was playing. He carried himself as a true professional and I know the team did too. I’m more than happy to help him out with anything that he wants to do. He’s great for the game of lacrosse and he’s the kind of thing that this sport needs. And as I said, anytime I can help a young guy out, I’m willing to do that.
*I listened to what he says several times & although this doesnâ€™t quite make sense, Iâ€™m pretty confident it was what he said.
MD: Very few players in any sport get the opportunity to work with a major company to design their own line of equipment. What was it like working with Adidas on your signature line?
JG: It was good. Obviously I worked with different companies in the past for various reasons. But you know, I had the opportunity to meet with these people. They were just starting out. That was one of the things they really wanted to, they wanted a guy with a lot of experience and they wanted to have a guy help design the line. Obviously that’s something that every lacrosse player dreams of doing. I was thrilled to do it. It was pretty cool to actually see my name on sticks and gloves and shoulder pads and the rest and you know I was quite proud of some of our parts. I think we came in with some pretty cool stuff. And uh yeah, I’m just hoping down the road I’m that I’m able to continue to do that with them, or whoever.
MD: I read that you have a degree in Physical Education, but was unable to find out much more. What is your weekday job? Are you teaching?
JG: I was teaching for a little bit but you know, it wasn’t for me. And I stopped pretty much right away. When I do something I want to give it all I have and I wasn’t fully dedicated to it and I don’t think that’s right to be. I know when I was a student, I could tell there were teachers that weren’t fully into it and you know what, it just wasn’t for me, and I was… It was good to have to fall back on in case something else didn’t happen but I’m going to do my absolute best to continue to try to hold a career in lacrosse, through manufacturing and camps and clinics. It’s my passion, it’s what I love to do, it’s all I think about. It’s kind of what my career path is gonna probably lead me after playing. Coaching obviously and being involved with manufacturing and teaching the kids lacrosse. For now I think I’ve made the right decision. It’s afforded me the opportunity as I said to you know move to Rochester, move to Denver. I get a chance to travel to a lot of great places through lacrosse. So I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I been teaching. I think I made the right decision and yeah, there’s no looking back at this point.
MD: Whatâ€™s the last book you read?
JG: I think I’ll have to go back to college for that one. I think the Gold Standard by the coach from Duke. I think it was called the Gold Standard.
MD: Whatâ€™s the last movie you saw?
MD: Favorite movie?
JG: These are tough. Let me think. Slapshot… no. I’ll just say, I’ll be cheesy and say The Hangover, I guess. That’s probably everyone’s now.
MD: Where in the world do you most want to travel to?
JG: Eastern Europe which I will be heading to in May for the World Indoor Championships. I’ve been to a lot of places in the world and that’s the only place I haven’t been.
MD: Whatâ€™s your favorite place to travel to?
JG: I’ve been very fortunate to travel to Hawaii 8 or 9 out of the last 10 years. It’s a pretty nice place to go but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to say Ireland.
MD: What item can you not live without?
JG: My lacrosse stick
MD: If you werenâ€™t playing lacrosse, what sport would you want to play?
JG: It used to be hockey but now it’s definitely golf.
MD: Whatâ€™s your dream car?
JG: I’d have to say probably…uh, I don’t know. Car. Probably a Porsche Cayenne, I guess. [I responded that’s an interesting choice mostly because I’ll admit I was surprised by the Cayenne as I would’ve expected Carrere in combination with Porsche] Nah… I don’t want one of those, never mind. Um, I gotta think of something. Car. That’s a tricky one. Laughs. A 70’s Cadillac Deville. I’d say like a 60’s Porsche. I seem like I’m a Porsche guy, I guess. I’d have to try to learn standard though because I only drive auto, I don’t know how to drive standard. I’d have to learn that if I ever got one.
MD: What advice would you give to young lacrosse players?
JG: Your stick is your best friend. It should be treated as, like your best friend. It should never…. um… I used to always say, you never leave it in the trunk of your car. You never leave it in the car. You never leave it in the closet underneath all your other stuff. Stick stays beside the bed when I go to sleep and it’s usually beside me on the couch during the day. You treat it well, it will treat you well in overtime when you need it.
MD: What do you wish people knew about you?
JG: What I wish people knew about me? Oh, I don’t know. That’s a good one. Who gave you these questions? Geez. That I’m actually a nice guy.