As an athlete’s playing career draws to a close, they fondly look back at their achievements, accolades and awards. But when peeling back the layers to reveal what makes an athlete tick, one usually finds a lifelong love for competition, the game and what it means in their lives.
That’s how former Colorado Mammoth and two-time NLL league MVP John Grant Jr. responded when asked what lacrosse meant to him, as he reflects on a career that spanned seventeen years.
Grant Jr. will have his No. 24 jersey retired to the Pepsi Center rafters on March 24th, when the Mammoth host the Vancouver Stealth. It will represent the fourth jersey the Colorado Mammoth have retired in franchise history. Grant’s jersey will join Gary Gait’s No. 22, Brian Langtry’s No. 6, and Gavin Prout’s No. 9 jersey, as he caps off a career that certainly will land Grant Jr. in the NLL Hall of Fame.
In over six seasons with the Mammoth, Grant rewrote the record books as the team’s all-time leader in goals (235), and finishing second in both assists (317) and points (552).
The two-time MVP and nine-time All-Pro finished his career second in league history in goals (668) and points (1,446), and fifth in assists (778).
But past all the stats and points, for Grant Jr., lacrosse has always been life for him.
“I basically came out of the womb with a stick in the hand,” Grant Jr. said. “It’s almost a comfort zone for me. Playing lacrosse is what I did for enjoyment, it’s what I did to relieve stress… I just loved everything that the game brings, the camaraderie, the toughness, the creativity, there’s not a lot of games like it.”
Once a jersey is raised to the rafters, it remains there forever as a symbol of excellence, and as time passes, when fans look up into the rafters of Pepsi Center to see his banner hang, Grant Jr. knows what he wants fans to remember about him.
“I loved the game,” Grant Jr. said. “I did everything I could to help my team win games. I wanted to be the best teammate that I could be…I did everything I could to be there for my teammates, on and off the field.”
“I found a way to love the game in practice, whether I was practicing alone or practicing with my team, I think over the numerous decades of playing and practicing. I was able to turn that love into a pretty exciting brand of lacrosse,” Grant Jr. said, whose creative style of play left an indelible mark on the game with flashy goals and nifty tricks.
“I was never trying to do anything fancy, it’s just what I learned to do to make up for my, at times, physical liability. I was able to use my creativity to get the job done.”
Because of his pioneering play that helped transform the game of lacrosse, current Mammoth general manager Dan Carey told ColoradoMammoth.Com that Grant Jr. is one of the greatest lacrosse players of all-time.
“John Grant has to be considered one of the greatest lacrosse players to ever play our game,” Carey said. “There are many reasons why John had so much success. One obvious reason was his skill level, which was second to none, but also his compete level. John left it all on the turf every single game he played, and he made teammates and opposing players better for it.”
Leaving it all on the turf is one way to describe the gritty, talented Grant Jr., who played with numerous injuries over time.
“I would rather not put [my number] in the rafters, I would rather be able to put it back on, but father time is the only opponent you can’t defeat,” Grant Jr. said, who has dealt with emergency surgeries and a beaten-up body, but it never stopped him from continually re-creating himself and allowing his game to flourish.
Grant Jr. will certainly have an emotional night when his number is retired, but looking back on his career, he says his advice to his younger self would be to cherish and respect the opportunities, and with a chuckle, says he’d stretch just a little bit more.
“Cherish it more. Respect the opportunity… and maybe stretch my shoulder out a little bit more; that championship game I tore my shoulder up the first quarter a bit.”
But when it came to the moment, when the team needed him to come through the most, even through injury, Grant Jr. was never afraid of the clutch moment, scoring countless game-winners in his career. The man they called ‘Junior’ says it was one of his favorite moments of his playing career.
“I just loved scoring game-winners. Getting tackled by your teammates, thrown to the ground… Having that moment where it’s like, ‘we did it.'”
“I know you can win a games by a whole bunch, but there’s just something about in any sport, a golden goal or overtime, extra innings in baseball… The actual pulling the trigger on that final play is something I’m going to miss more than most.”
Grant Jr. remains connected to lacrosse, however. He accepted the head varsity coaching job at Valor Christian High School back in 2015 and says that the opportunities he’s received to remain connected to lacrosse are tremendous.
“I love and feel called to be at Valor, they’re giving me a tremendous opportunity to coach lacrosse and mentor kids on a full-time basis,” Grant Jr. said.
“I get to coach professionally with the Denver Outlaws, so I’ve got the kids coming out of college and helping kids get into college, so I’m kind of on both sides of that.”
Grant Jr. now gets to impact the next wave of lacrosse, one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
“I try to develop these kids to send them off to college. I never had really anyone help me with that side of things — as far as the right things to do to help yourselves prepare for college — so I’m really liking that I’m able to help develop these kids and help transform these young men and prepare them for the next four years of college and the next four years of life, I’m truly fulfilled that way.”
As the page turns for Grant Jr., he remains in Colorado, spending more time with his family, continuing to remain entrenched in lacrosse and enjoying life. Grant Jr. says he wouldn’t change a thing about his career, even if he had the opportunity.
“I’m completely content and happy in Colorado doing what I’m doing; coaching high school, coaching club youth lacrosse and coaching the Denver Outlaws. All is good; enjoying the fact that I get to spend more time with my wife and daughter, I get more weekends to do that now. Things are very good, now it’s just dealing with the daily aches and pains of putting my body through the ringer for so long… but I wouldn’t change it even if I had the opportunity.”