By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 6 -- Cody Grimm was viewed as a more promising lacrosse prospect out of Oakton High School, and his only football scholarship offer was from division I-AA William & Mary. But he has made up for his physical deficiencies -- he stands only 5 feet 11 -- with football savvy and toughness. Now on scholarship as a fifth-year senior linebacker at Virginia Tech, Grimm has defied expectations to become a key component of the Hokies' defense and special teams units, and perhaps the team's best overall player.
"That scholarship has paid off very, very well for us," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "We're the ones that were lucky there."
In a 34-26 win Saturday over Duke, Grimm made a career-high 14 tackles, two for a loss. He was named the ACC defensive back of the week for the performance.
But defensive coordinator Bud Foster also challenged Grimm and the other seniors by saying veteran leadership was lacking in the preparation for the game. The Blue Devils had five passes of 20 or more yards. While Grimm said he has tried to lead by example, the thought of being a team leader never crossed his mind when he was a walk-on.
"I saw myself maybe playing special teams, getting dressed and hanging out with the guys," Grimm said this week as the No. 5 Hokies (4-1, 2-0) prepare to host Boston College (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday. "It's pretty cool."
While his emergence might have been hard to predict, Grimm grew up around football.
Though he was too young to remember much about them, Grimm went to Washington Redskins games to watch his father, Russ Grimm, a Pro Bowl offensive lineman as a member of the franchise's famous "Hogs" of the 1980s and early 1990s. When he was in middle school and high school, Grimm attended training camp practices and film sessions with his father, who later worked as an assistant coach for the Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It doesn't hurt when you're around it and seeing different looks and watching film with me, but the instinct thing, some kids have it and some kids don't," Russ Grimm, now the assistant head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, said in a telephone interview. "Ever since he was little, in peewee league, they'd run a reverse, they'd have 20 guys running opposite way, and he'd be the one guy chasing the reverse."
But at Oakton High in Vienna, Grimm was also a lacrosse standout. He helped lead Oakton to three state championships and was an all-American midfielder recruited by schools such as Georgetown, Loyola and Virginia. Grimm's younger brother, Dylan, plays at Loyola.
Most major football programs only sent their assistant coaches to visit Grimm, with offers to take him as a walk-on. Grimm picked Virginia Tech over Pittsburgh, which also recruited him to walk on.
Although his older brother, Chad, was a Hokies linebacker, Grimm said he was initially unsure if he had the talent and size to play at Virginia Tech. He received an eye-opening welcome when he met two of his suitemates: hulking former defensive lineman William Wall and 283-pound tight end Greg Boone, then a high-profile quarterback prospect.
"William Wall looked like he was about 30, and he was like 6-3," said Grimm, who weighed 183 pounds as a freshman. "I remember watching Greg Boone's highlight tape he showed us freshman year. It was ridiculous."
Five years later, Grimm is a mainstay of the Hokies' defense. With pluck and persistence, he has proven himself a valuable addition. Foster called Grimm the best pound-for-pound player on the Hokies' roster. Running backs coach Billy Hite went a step further, saying Grimm "might be the best football player in the Atlantic Coast Conference."
This season, Grimm is Virginia Tech's leader in tackles (45) and tackles for a loss (5 1/2 ). But statistics do not define Grimm's ability.
Against Alabama in the season opener on Sept. 5, Grimm caught running back Roy Upchurch 33 yards downfield and stripped the ball from him. Against Miami, Grimm punched the ball loose from Hurricanes tight end Dedrick Epps as he tried to corral a pass in the end zone; Grimm had his back to the ball but could tell the pass was coming by looking in Epps's eyes.
Although this is Grimm's first year as the starter, his performance has been impressive enough to the earn attention of evaluators at the next level.
Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys personnel executive and a draft analyst for NFL.com, said Grimm could be selected as a safety in the draft despite his size. Brandt said he believed as much "just knowing how people are looking for safeties that can run, that have a feel for the game."
"He's one of those guys that's going to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick," Brandt said in a telephone interview. "He has a chance to be a pick because I think he plays hard, because he's got the speed. You'd like to have him a little taller, but he's a very, very competitive guy."
Grimm said he was unaware of his professional prospects. But after completing his one remaining two-credit class for his property management degree, he is scheduled to graduate in December and then plans to work out in the hopes of an NFL opportunity.
It would not be the first time Grimm exceeded expectations.