Reflecting back on a career filled with greatness, it’s tough to pick out any single instance that a player will remember forever from the thousands of highlights and great games that he may have had. This is especially true for former Colorado Mammoth player John Grant Jr., whose career is littered with great moments, championships, and even hardships.
Interestingly enough for Grant Jr., a pro career in lacrosse wasn’t originally his plan. There was a chance that the lacrosse world have never witnessed Grant’s extraordinary talent, as he found himself weighing it against going to school or even giving hockey a try.
“Back in the day you could still kind of find yourself, so to speak, before you go play sports in the NCAA,” Grant Jr. said about that time. “Now it’s kind of like, once you graduate, your clock starts ticking. You know, like most Canadians, I kind of toyed with the idea of maybe playing hockey even though I wasn’t quite as good; it’s just something I did. And then I just wasn’t really sure academically that I was cut out for it.”
He was drafted by the Buffalo Bandits in the third round of the 1995 MILL Draft, opening up the possible start of his pro career, but after some consideration, he forwent the opportunity and instead opted to go to college and earn a degree.
“But that’s why I realized when I was drafted by Buffalo that I wanted to get a degree, and I wanted to find every possible way to go play in the NCAA and use lacrosse as an opportunity to get that degree when I wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” Grant Jr. said, regarding the thought process behind his decision.
Grant Jr. instead enrolled at the State University of New York at Morrisville. He stayed at SUNY Morrisville for two years before transferring to the University of Delaware. He played the 1998 and 1999 season with Delaware, going 23-8 across the two seasons and earning a USILA National Collegiate Player of the Year award. He took the team to their first quarterfinals appearance in the NCAA tournament, as well as their first 14-win season.
But as his college days were winding down, Grant Jr. found himself once again at a crossroads when it came to lacrosse. Hockey was no longer in the equation, but a reformed National Lacrosse League had appeal that couldn’t be overlooked this time around.
“The pro league wasn’t that big a deal, really. It was cool, but it really wasn’t something I set out to do,” Grant Jr. said about the NLL at the time. “I always wanted to play, but I just assumed that was going to be with the (Peterborough) Lakers and then possibly for Team Canada. But, ironically, as I finally did go to (University of) Delaware and spent my couple of years there, the league kind of formed a new league and started to really grow.”
So after finishing his final two years at the University of Delaware, Grant Jr. reentered the draft. He was drafted once again, this time first overall by the Rochester Nighthawks. He went on to have a strong rookie campaign, finishing with 37 goals and 40 assists in 12 games played. Even though he was coming from college-level lacrosse, the transition seemed relatively seamless for Grant Jr.
“I was 24, 25 years old as a rookie. I had already played high-level Canadian box lacrosse for several years. I was rookie of the year for Peterborough and finished second in scoring — that was a couple of years before,” he said. “So, I was already playing against all of these guys, and when I got to Rochester, it was a fairly seamless transition other than the fact that it was the first time I had gotten to play with so many high-level players.”
The Nighthawks finished the season with an 8-4 record, third-best in the league, then defeated Buffalo to go to the Champions Cup finals. Rochester went on to finish second to the Toronto Rock, and Grant Jr. was named Rookie of the Year. But despite the wealth of experience he had going in, as well as the experience gained during his successful first-year campaign, there was still more to learn as his game evolved from being central on his own play, to being more focused on teamwork with the high-caliber players he was now surrounded by.
“That was the adjustment. Where [in] Peterborough for a few years, we were pretty lean, there was only 30-40 people at the games, we didn’t really even have full rosters for most the of the time, and I kind of felt like I had to take things into my own hands and do everything on my own. It wasn’t until I got to Rochester where I started to learn how to play a team game and be part of a team game,” he said of his evolution.
Rochester finished second that year to the Toronto Rock for the Champions Cup. Grant Jr. improved year over year and battled injuries until 2007; his breakout year not only with Rochester, but within the box lacrosse world. Despite a rocky start to the season, the Nighthawks went on to win the Champions Cup while Grant Jr. put together an MVP season of 51 goals and 60 assists. He wasn’t done there, though, as he returned to Team Canada to win the World Lacrosse Championship soon after, and then the Mann Cup with the Peterborough Lakers — where he earned MVP for the series. He also earned a league MVP in the MLL outdoor league with the Rochester Rattlers, but the team lost in the semifinals of the playoffs.
“It was a pretty special couple of years where the teams I was on were really, really good,” he said. “We went on a pretty spectacular run. For a guy who never won any, from 2004-2010, couldn’t stop. Went from none to a lot in a couple of years.”
That drive carried Grant Jr. to win several more cups and personal awards in multiple leagues. Then, in 2010, a big trade sent both Grant and teammate Mac Allen to the Colorado Mammoth in exchange for then-goaltender of the year Matt Vinc, along with Matt Zash and Brad Self and draft picks.
Despite being an older player, the Mammoth embraced Grant Jr., and he quickly loved the organization right back.
“Everything is taken care of. Your family is taken care of, you’re treated well. It’s first class,” he said, praising the Mammoth organization. “They really, really took the time to make sure it was first-class for the athletes and their families, and that’s why it’s a destination for players to go to. I kind of demanded that ‘if you’re trading me, this is where I want to go.’ I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Grant Jr. went on to have his second MVP year with the Mammoth in 2012, tallying 50 goals and 66 assists and setting a new league record with 116 points in a season, while the team went 11-5 but lost in the division semi-final round of the playoffs. He followed up with three straight 91-point seasons before he wrapped up his final two years, calling it a career after only being able to play two games in the 2017 season.
While with the Mammoth, Grant Jr. passed several career milestones, including his 1000th point and his 500th goal. He also became the all-time team leader in goals with 235, and stands in second in with 317 assists and 552 points. The Mammoth will retire his No. 24 in a pre-game ceremony during their March 24 game against the Vancouver Stealth. Grant Jr. will get one more chance to come out of the tunnel and be cheered by a fanbase he has happily embraced.
“There’s no better feeling than coming out of that tunnel and having them scream and yell,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m going to miss the most about playing for the Mammoth — that five to seven steps coming out of the tunnel, shaking hands and then going to battle.”
The team will retire his No. 24 to the rafters, joining the likes of Gary Gait, Brian Langtry and Gavin Prout. Undoubtedly, it will be the first of many post-career awards Grant Jr. will earn, one of which might include a bid into the NLL Hall of Fame.