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Grant making a name for himself at UMD

Aaron Roth remembers standing on the sidelines at the Metrodome in 2009, forced to watch his Wayzata football team take on Eden Prairie in the Minnesota large-school state quarterfinals because of an ankle injury.

Aaron Roth remembers standing on the sidelines at the Metrodome in 2009, forced to watch his Wayzata football team take on Eden Prairie in the Minnesota large-school state quarterfinals because of an ankle injury.
The game was a classic defensive struggle, with Eden Prairie senior tight end Taylor Grant scoring the only touchdown in the Eagles’ 7-3 victory.
“Taylor made an unbelievably tough catch,” Roth said. “I remember watching that and thinking, ‘Wow, that kid is pretty talented.’ He was the difference maker.”
Little did they know that five years later they would not only be teammates for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, but roommates as well. Grant, the grandson of Minnesota Vikings coaching legend Bud Grant, has emerged as a leader on and off the field for the Bulldogs going into their NSIC home game at 1:05 p.m. Saturday with Bemidji State.
Taylor Grant transferred to UMD from North Dakota before last season.
“Taylor fit in immediately,” Roth said. “He is just one of those guys everybody loves. I’ve only known him for a year and a half, but it seems like it’s been five or six years already. He’s very personable. Taylor can walk in a room with a bunch of strangers and walk out five minutes later and be friends with everybody. That’s just the way he is. He’s just a great guy to be around.”
That is not to say he’s not a competitor, a byproduct of being part of football family that includes his father, Mike Grant, who in 20 years has built Eden Prairie into arguably the state’s best football program. Taylor’s uncle, Bruce Grant (1980-83), and cousin, Rick Fritz (1998-2002), both starred at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Bruce’s daughter, Natalie, is a freshman at UMD and Bruce was up here last weekend for homecoming.
“I know the tradition here,” Taylor Grant said. “I don’t think I could have picked a better place. If you want to compete for a national championship, this is where you want to be.”
Taylor Grant was recruited by the Bulldogs out of high school and even took an official visit to Duluth, but he got a full scholarship offer from North Dakota, which was making the move up to the Football Championship Subdivision ranks. After redshirting in 2010, he was the long snapper for two years. Grant hoped to compete for the starting tight end position but was sidelined by mononucleosis during spring football in 2013. North Dakota’s program, meanwhile, was struggling and the offense and coaching staff were in flux.
“I just wasn’t enjoying football as much as I thought I could,” Taylor Grant said. “I love football and just wanted to have a fun playing again, and that’s what I’ve found here. I never wanted to have that feeling like I wanted to be done.”
Taylor Grant, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, caught five passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns in his first season with the Bulldogs last fall. Grant has moved into a starting role this season after UMD graduated its starting duo of Jeremy Reierson and Pat Alexander.
This season Grant has caught 10 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown while also being a solid blocker for a Bulldogs team that is seventh in NCAA Division II at 308 rushing yards per game.
“We liked Taylor in high school, so when he gave us a phone call and decided to transfer, we were excited to have him,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “He’s been a great addition to our football team. He’s been a leader for us, always very positive. He’s just a great kid from a great program. We can take as many good Eden Prairie football players as we can get.”
While Mike Grant has made all of Taylor’s games this season, Bud, an avid outdoorsman, was only able to make the Southwest Minnesota State game on Sept. 20 in Duluth. Then, he immediately went back to his cabin in Gordon, Wis. This is his busy season, Taylor said, criss-crossing the country for various duck and deer openers.
Bud Grant is a Superior native who guided the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances. He was a disciplinarian in the military style, kind of like his old friend and Minnesota Gophers teammate Jim Malosky, who coached the Bulldogs for 40 years.
Taylor Grant said his father’s coaching style is very laid back, a product of his personality and having played for St. John’s legend John Gagliardi, known for an unorthodox style that in many ways was ahead of its time. Taylor remembers only three practices in full pads during his three years of varsity at Eden Prairie, which has won nine state titles since 1996, including three straight.
Taylor Grant laughed after being asked what grandpa would say about Mike Grant’s approach.
“I don’t think he can say too much, right?” Taylor Grant said. “He’s been pretty successful, but they both try to establish the same principles in their players. They just go about it differently. Grandpa had an old-school style as a football coach, but everything he did had a reason and a purpose. He has a lot of common sense.”
Taylor Grant is a communications major with a minor in coaching. He has a 3.2 grade-point average and will graduate in the spring. If he decides to pursue coaching, he could look for a graduate assistant job or possibly coach with his father at Eden Prairie, something he said would be a great life experience.
Mike Grant, who also is Eden Prairie’s athletic director, had college coaching offers but stayed with the Eagles, in part so he could coach Taylor and his older brother, Ryan Grant, who went on to play linebacker for the Minnesota Gophers. They won the Minnesota large-school state title together in 2007.
“That was his dream,” Taylor Grant said of his dad. “I don’t think he’d change anything. He’s a lot like my grandpa. He doesn’t need to take another coaching job or move up. He is very happy with his situation, and that’s all that matters.”
That is the same approach to life Taylor takes.
Taylor Grant is proud of his family name. It is a big part of who he is and why he loves football and the outdoors, but he doesn’t let it define him. He might go into coaching, he might not. Either way, he is going to be doing something he wants to do.
“Taylor just wants to be one of the guys,” Roth said. “He understands the success his family has had, but he doesn’t ride that success. He doesn’t say, ‘I’m Bud’s grandson.’ He’s just Taylor. He understands where his family has been and he understands what he wants to do with his life and what legacy he wants to leave. He’s making a name for himself at UMD as football player and as a person.”

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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