PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Returning kicks and punts for touchdowns is nothing new for Janarion Grant.
The first time Grant touched the ball for the Scarlet Knights, he scored on a 100-yard kickoff return against Fresno State in 2013.
This season has been even better. The junior had a career game against Washington State on Saturday, scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return and a 55-yard punt return. Add in his 80-yard kickoff return against Norfolk State in the opener and Grant has three returns for touchdown and five in his career.
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”I just see once I get the blocks that I need to get, then I see the hole open and after that I see nothing but green grass until the end zone,” Grant said.
On his punt return, Grant made a nifty spin move to propel him to a touchdown. Many in that spot would have taken the fair catch with a defender close.
”That’s my mentality every time I get the ball,” Grant said. ”When I see him from the distance, he was close, but he wasn’t that close. He gave me enough room to make a move and that’s what I did.”
Given his success, it’s amazing that teams are still kicking his way.
”I’m very surprised,” Grant said. ”But that’s what I would like to happen so I can (give) my attributes as the team goes on.”
Penn State coach James Franklin said the Nittany Lions have to be fundamentally sound in their coverages to stop Grant.
”It’s exciting when a great player comes in and you have an opportunity to maybe do some things to make sure he doesn’t have a big impact in the game,” Franklin said.
Franklin noted Grant is different from most return men because he has speed and strength.
”This guy breaks tackles, he’s able to make you miss, and he’s got the ability to run away and score,” he said. ”So he’s a threat, there’s no doubt about it.”
While the highlights are the punt and kick returns, Grant made several key plays on offense en route to his school-record 337-yard performance. He had five receptions for 65 yards, including a crucial 20-yard catch on a fourth and five. He also had a 21-yard run on a sweep. While he’s a receiver, it’s a play call he’d like to see more often.
”I wouldn’t mind,” Grant said. ”I like that because I’m already at top speed, so it would be nice.”
In any event, expect Grant to be getting the ball more often.
”As the season goes on, I believe you’re going to see Janarion impact the passing game more and more,” coach Kyle Flood said this week before being suspended for three games for contacting a teacher about a player’s grade. ”We have to find ways for Janarion to touch the ball more.”
That becomes more the case with the absence of Leonte Carroo. The star receiver was suspended indefinitely following an arrest in which he was charged with body slamming a woman he was once romantically involved with following the Scarlet Knights’ loss to Washington State.
”He’s one of the main guys, one of the main receivers and we just have to fill one of those spots,” Grant said. ”And that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
He knows that means more responsibility falls to him. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder looks forward to it.
”Play me wherever,” Grant said.” I like it. I love it. That’s my job. That’s what I’ve been doing all my years playing football.”
Grant’s not worried about being stretched too thin between his returning and his role on offense. Regardless of how much he’s on the field, whenever he touches the ball, Grant expects to score.
”I think you have to feel like that,” Grant said. ”If you don’t, you’re just downgrading yourself. You got to just paint the bigger picture and just go for it.”