Buckeyes Smith, Grant ride proudly into Senior Bowl

Devin Smith (9) and fellow Stark County native Doran Grant have a lot to smile about as they head to the Senior Bowl.  

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

MOBILE, Ala. – To borrow a line from Akron’s most famous resident, four-time NBA MVP LeBron James, they’re just a couple kids from Akron, Ohio.

Doran Grant always believed he was supposed to be here.

Once Devin Smith really started liking football, he took off, too.

Now, Grant and Smith are done playing at Ohio State and set to participate in the Senior Bowl this week, a bridge towards realizing their NFL dreams. And they come to compete as roommates, cousins and national champions.

Not bad, eh?

"It’s a blessing," Grant said.

Smith and Grant are second cousins who have been teammates and competitors "for as long as we can remember," Smith said. "We played football in the street. We raced in the yard. We were on the same track team. We played middle school basketball against each other."

Both claim their teams won those games, naturally.

"Devin can run by any cornerback in the country," Grant said before the Jan. 12 national championship game in Dallas. "Except me."

Grant was the more in-demand recruit out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He said he remembers "scoring about 30 touchdowns a year" for the Ellet Raiders pee-wee team, and after a year on the freshman team he was a three-year high school star. He committed to Ohio State over Michigan State, where his father had played, but he didn’t need to do much recruiting of his cousin.

Smith committed the summer before, just three days after the only offer he wanted — Ohio State’s — was officially made.

Jim Tressel was fired the week they graduated from high school, and Luke Fickell was Ohio State’s coach in 2011. Grant played in all 13 games covering kicks and working as a backup corner, and Smith wasn’t a full-time player but immediately established himself as a deep threat.

Ohio State was 22-0 over Smith’s four years when Smith caught a touchdown pass.

Smith said he played "everything" growing up — basketball, football, soccer and track — and once thought his athletic future, if there was going to be one, would be in basketball or in track and field. He went to Akron’s Ellet High School for two years before he moved to Massillon, where he was closer to his grandmother, routinely played in front of crowds of 15,000 or more and got the college attention and one offer he’d been seeking.

Things worked out quite nicely.

"Doran and I have talked (a lot) about how rough it’s been and how far we’ve come," Smith said. "It shows that we stayed working hard…and we got to this point now. Work, that’s what got us here."

While Smith’s biggest games last season came in Ohio State’s breakthrough wins over Michigan State and Alabama, Grant said he believes he played his best football over the back half of his senior season. Without what he calls "improved confidence and production," a Senior Bowl invitation may never have been delivered.

Last year, 84 players who participated in the Senior Bowl were drafted. Seven of them were first-round picks.

Grant said the first time he remembers Smith as a formal teammate the two were sixth graders running for a track team called United In Flight out of East Akron. Both qualified for the national youth championships held at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Grant in the triple jump and Smith in the high jump. The next two years they were basketball rivals, Smith for Hyre Middle School and Grant for Innes.

They played against each other in high school, then were teammates in the Big 33 all-star game just before starting their college careers.

They leave as national champs. This week, they are teammates again with the eyes of the NFL watching.

"It’s a blessing," Grant said. "It’s been a lot of fun. I think we went to Ohio State because we wanted the types of opportunities we’ve had. As far as what’s next, I think we both have the talent. I’m excited to see how it all turns out."

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