LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. — Xavier Grimble’s excitement for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine can hardly be contained.
The tight end’s career fell short of the expectations placed on him when he first walked on USC’s campus four years ago. Grimble, who was celebrated as the No. 1 player at his position in 2010, had big goals, including becoming the school’s first Mackey Award winner since 2007 (Fred Davis). Instead, Grimble’s redshirt junior season was marred by ankle and shoulder injuries.
While the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has rare athleticism for his size, he wasn’t utilized consistently in the Trojans’ offense. That could change in the NFL.
“I think Xavier is going to be an All-Pro in the NFL,” former USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron told FOXSports.com. “He has an unusual body size for a tight end that looks like a left tackle. He can block, run and catch and he’s a great young man.
Grimble feels next week’s combine is the perfect time to escape the shadow of doubt that plagued him the past few seasons.
“Can’t wait to prove myself, man,” Grimble told FOXSports.com. “I feel like the underdog now. I was the guy who had a lot of expectations. I showed some flashes but I didn’t really get to max out. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I want to get out there and rip it up.”
Grimble’s career got off to a slow start at USC. An ankle injury would prevent him from garnering practice reps, which led to a decision to redshirt him his first year. The following season Grimble caught just 15 passes for 144 yards and 4 touchdowns. He committed to working on detail in all phases of his game, while continuing to be a more-than-adequate red zone threat.
“I don’t really want to blame the coach or anything but [Lane] Kiffin has his ways,” Grimble said. “He likes to run a certain type of offense. He’s more of a certain “Get the ball in the guy’s” hands. He likes to max out one person. Our first year it was Robert Woods. Then it was Marqise [Lee] for two years.”
Woods caught 111 balls for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns in his junior season, breaking the school’s single-season reception record. The next year Lee broke Woods’ record with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“I kind of got overshadowed a bit but I think I showed enough that will allow me to get an opportunity,” Grimble said. “When I look at it it’s not a bad deal. My body is still in good shape and I’m not too banged up.”
Grimble, who finished his career with 69 receptions and 11 touchdowns, waffled on his decision to come out as last season concluded. While USC was preparing for Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Grimble said that he was leaning towards coming back for his senior season.
Following a talk with his family about his future and the direction the USC football program was headed, he decided to forgo his collegiate eligibility. Another major factor in Grimble’s decision was USC not hiring Orgeron as the full-time guy. Orgeron, who led the Trojans to a 7-2 record after Lane Kiffin’s dismissal, resigned after athletic director Pat Haden hired Steve Sarkisian.
When asked if his decision to leave school early would’ve been different if Orgeron remained the head coach Grimble quipped: “No doubt. Without a doubt. The last conversation we had, he was just as upset as we were. It sounded like he didn’t really want to coach for a little while because I think he was pretty hurt about it. It’s kind of a slap in the face the way they did it. It was so cutthroat. They made it seem like he never really had a chance. They just strung him along and patted him on the back because he was doing well.
“At the end you could kind of see there was really no shot at him getting the job, but he brought us together so well. He was getting the most out of everybody. Kids that never played during Kiffin’s time were out there making plays and doing well. To see it go that way was heartbreaking.”
Now that all of Grimble’s focus has been on training for the NFL Scouting Combine, he feels as healthy as ever and is looking forward to showing scouts and NFL personnel that he belongs in the next level.
“I think it’s going to go well,” Grimble said. “I think I’m going to run fast for my size. I think I’m going to break a sub 4.6. I know I’m going to look good in the drills. I have good hands and good feet.”