PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers offensive catalyst Janarion Grant has waited 11 months to play in a game, and the stage could not be bigger for his return.
The Scarlet Knights wide receiver and game-breaking kickoff and punt returner will be back on the field Friday when Rutgers opens the season at home against No. 8 Washington.
''It's been too long. I love this game,'' Grant said, smiling after practice Monday, ''But I'm feeling great. I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to go.''
Before a season-ending right ankle injury, the star of the offense started the first four games, averaging 163.75 yards. He accounted for six touchdowns (three rushing, one kick return, one punt return and one passing).
After his injury during Rutgers' 14-7 loss to Iowa, the offense sputtered and the team lost its final nine games.
''It was difficult,'' Grant said. ''Just going down, that really hurt me, and to see my team fall down after that. We weren't really together, but I think we're stronger, I think we're building each and every day up to Friday. Each and every week I think we're going to change a lot of people's eyes and minds about this year.''
The redshirt senior - who on his first collegiate touch returned a Fresno State kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown - showed he was more than just a kick returner last season and began displaying his full potential in the first four games. It was enough to put him on the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung and Maxwell awards, given to the most versatile player and player of the year.
While coach Chris Ash and new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill have been coy about exactly what Grant's role will be, Grant expects to still line up as the wildcat quarterback.
''We're going to use him as much as we possibly can, and not put him in harm's way by playing him at every snap,'' Ash said. ''Wish we could get him over at corner, too, a little bit. We're going to use him as much as we have to, and he'll be all over the field both on special teams and on offense.''
Ash may have been saying he'd line up Grant on defense in jest, but the 5-foot-10, 178-pound speedster is hoping to be a workhorse. And that could include defense.
''Oh yeah. Of course,'' Grant said when asked if he wanted to have a similar workload to last season. ''I even want to go on defense. I'll play safety or corner. I'll do it all. Honestly, I love this sport. I don't want to come off the field.''
Before his injury last year, he barely did.
Rutgers hopes to have added more playmakers in graduate transfers and true freshmen. But quarterback Kyle Bolin knows the top playmaker at his disposal. While the Louisville graduate transfer didn't watch tape of Rutgers' offense from last season, considering it was a different system, he has seen Grant's highlight reel.
''He's definitely a game-changer,'' Bolin said. ''What he can do with a football in his hands is unreal sometimes. Watching him perform at such a high level last year just really excites me for what he can bring to the table this year. It's just as simple as a 2- to 3-yard pass he can turn in to a 70-yard touchdown, so just knowing that I have a weapon like that at my disposal is going to make my job ten times easier.''
That would appear to put more pressure on Grant, but he handles it like he does a punt.
''No pressure on me. I'm good. I just got to stay relaxed,'' Grant said. ''It's just like a punt return. You got to stay calm and let everybody do their jobs and when that happens, the tables have turned for the other team.''
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