Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
For USC redshirt freshman tight end Xavier Grimble (pictured below by Jon SooHoo), the path to professional sports was not supposed to traverse the historic grass of the Coliseum.
In fact, the Trojans' offensive star (five catches for 66 yards and his first career touchdown) from last week's 23-14 win over Utah would be the first to admit that he used to prefer the bright lights of the hardwood.
"Basketball was my first love," Grimble said. "Until my sophomore year at Bishop Gorman HS, that's the sport I thought I'd play. But when I started to put on size and weight, then I thought maybe I could utilize my body better on a football field than on a basketball court."
Grimble's late growth spurt coincided directly with his rise as a nationally-ranked tight end. After putting up modest numbers (310 yards and 4 TDs) his junior year, Grimble's final season (39 catches, 709 yards and 9 TDs) for Bishop Gorman put the 245-pound, physical pass-catcher on the map across the country.
But even with all the attention he received on the football field (ranked as the No.1 tight end in the Class of 2010 by Rivals.com), Grimble never lost sight of his days inside the basketball gymnasium.
"Basketball always helped me out on the football field," said Grimble. "I could go to basketball practice in the morning and work on footwork technique and then use those same sets of skills out at football practice in the afternoon. The two have always been great for me in terms of cross training."
While his football acumen would eventually lead him to USC in 2010, the Las Vegas native was forced to redshirt last season.
"I have always been a patient guy, even with all of the rating stuff that went on with me in high school," said Grimble (pictured right by John McGillen). "I'd like to think that I am very patient and humble. When I came here, I wanted to play right away, but I wasn't devastated when they said they were going to redshirt me. I just took it as an opportunity to get better."
Grimble's selfless attitude has paid off in 2011, as his physicality in run-blocking situations, imposing frame and ability to catch the football over the middle earned him the starting to nod in the first two games.
Although the newest weapon in the Trojans' offense admits he needs to improve on becoming a more physical blocker, for now he's just enjoying the ride. And, through two games, Grimble's transition from the basketball court to the football field appears to be a slam dunk for both he and the Trojans.
"It was awesome to have that kind of role because I wasn't expecting it in my second game," said Grimble on his big performance against Utah. "Coach [Kiffin] called my number and I just wanted to go out there, make plays and do what they asked of me. It's been pretty exciting seeing how things have turned out."