Bobby Knight, the great college basketball coach, told me once that when he was recruiting, he not only is looking for great athletes but athletes who have been winners.
Well, if you were a coach looking for a winner, you wouldn't pass up Ryan Grant, now a Gophers linebacker. He played linebacker and defensive back at Eden Prairie High School before going 27-0 as the starting quarterback as a junior and senior, leading the Eagles to Class 5A state titles in 2006 and '07.
Grant, the son of Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant and grandson of former Vikings coach Bud Grant, is battling for a starting middle linebacker position with the Gophers this spring.
Ryan has been around football all his life. He said he rarely got advice from his grandfather about how he was playing, but he did learn other lessons.
"What I learned most from him [about football] was the stories he would tell about the great players he had coached and played with, and just the traits and characteristics that those players had," Ryan said. "I tried to act like them, because he said this is why they were great. So if I wanted to be good, too, I should play like them."
Great playing for dad
Ryan said it was really enjoyable to spend time every day at practice with his dad. And to be a quarterback with your dad calling the plays was also unique.
"We got along really well on the field," Ryan said. "Just honestly looking back [it was] one of the most special times in my life, just to be able to play football with your dad. We were successful and it was a great time. It's something I'll treasure forever."
In Ryan's senior year, his brother Taylor, now a redshirt freshman wide receiver at North Dakota State, was also on the team.
"We rode to school together in the morning and rode home together after practice," Ryan said. "You don't realize how special that is until now I'm in college and I hardly ever get to see my brother anymore, and I see my dad maybe every other weekend or something."
After being the star quarterback on championship high school teams, how does he like playing linebacker?
"You know the quarterback is a special position, but getting to play [middle] linebacker -- I enjoy it because in a lot of ways it's like playing quarterback on the defense," Ryan said. "You've got to make a lot of checks and calls. But it's definitely a huge difference from when at quarterback, you're trying to avoid all the hits and then you come to defense, and linebacker especially, you're trying to give out the hits. It took me awhile to get used to that."
Having spent a lot of time around two great coaches in his family, Ryan was asked how he feels about new Gophers coach Jerry Kill.
"I respect the things he's doing here," Ryan said. "I'm just excited for the season to start and see what we can do this year."
After being a big winner in high school, Grant had to endure nine consecutive losses last year before the Gophers beat Illinois and Iowa to end the season.
"People don't understand, there were a lot of close games in there," he said. "If one or two little things had gone the other way, we would have won, so you almost got this feeling of: 'Oh, something bad is going to happen here at the end of the game and we're going to lose it in the last couple of seconds.' So to win those last two, yeah, I think the players learned a lot about themselves during those games, too. Just the character and that we kept playing at the end. I think it will help a lot this year."
Ryan, who boasts a 3.0 grade-point average, will graduate this fall from the university. But he is a junior in eligibility, so he plans to go to graduate school so he can finish his college football career at Minnesota.
A year ago on April 21, the Twins were 11-4, outscoring their opposition 80-48 and outhitting them 135-128. They didn't lose their 12th game until May 11, to the White Sox.
In the same period this season, they were 6-12, had been outscored 88-54 and outhit 156-142.
A hot Cleveland Indians team, 13-6 after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Kansas City, comes to town this weekend, but recently the Indians have been dominated by the Twins. Minnesota has a 22-14 record against Cleveland since 2009 and has won five in a row and seven of the past eight games against the Central Division leaders.
The Twins might have a hard time continuing this dominance the way they have performed recently.
• Two future Gophers recently played in national all-star basketball games. Joe Coleman of Class 4A champion Hopkins played in the Next All-American Classic in suburban Chicago on April 3 and played well, scoring eight points. Andre Hollins of White Station (Tenn.) High School in Memphis played in the Jack Jones Shootout in Miami on April 10 and scored five points.
• This is a dead period for college basketball coaches to recruit until early in July. However, the Gophers have an advantage when it comes to scouting the top Net Gain Sports team and their opponents in all games because Brendan Taylor is son of Gophers assistant coach Vince Taylor. One of the players the Gophers also have interest in is Duluth East sophomore Johnny Woodard, who led his team into the Class 4A state tournament and is a teammate of Brendan Taylor.
• Mario Lucia, the son of Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia, likely will play junior hockey next season, but it's not definite yet, according to his father. Mario scored 54 points (30 goals, 24 assists) this season for Wayzata High School as a junior.
• The Los Angeles Times website had the following report about spring practice at Southern California, the Gophers' opening opponent at Los Angeles on Sept. 3. "An inexperienced offensive line has been unable to fuel a consistent running attack or stem a pass rush during spring practice. The receiving corps has been thinned on various days by injuries and disciplinary issues." Coach Lane Kiffin added that there were a number of guys coasting because of injuries and because there isn't enough depth behind them to push them. Well, maybe the Trojans won't be the Southern Cal of old when the Gophers meet them.
• Ex-Gophers wrestling champion Cole Konrad's MMA fight scheduled for Saturday's Bellator 42 vs. Paul Buentello has been postponed because of Buentello getting an undisclosed injury during his training.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • email@example.com