With the Trojans now in the midst of their summer training schedule, more than a few notable storylines have developed over the last three weeks. The most positive of them has been the return of a number of key contributors who were sidelined for all, or a portion, of the spring. And perhaps no one is more grateful to be back than Xavier Grimble.
Ranking third on the team in 2012 with 29 catches to go along with 316 receiving yards and five touchdowns, the redshirt junior tight end had to sit out the last half of spring ball after suffering a stress fracture of his first rib. Cleared by doctors since early May, however, he’s now hard at work and happy to be back in the swing of things.
“It’s a big relief to be out here,” Grimble said after one of the team’s volunteer passing sessions earlier this week. “I was a little stressed out because I wasn’t able to play for so long, so it’s been good to get out here and train with the team again, to catch some balls and to run around. I’m 100% and it just feels great.”
With that sense of renewed appreciation serving as a driving force, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has hit offseason workouts with more determination than ever, and it’s already paying off.
“The injury caused me to come back more focused,” said Grimble, who started nine games last season. “I’ve been training really hard, and especially after the injury, I took it upon myself to not only get healthy, but to get better -- to have a better knowledge of the game, to be physically better, bigger, faster and stronger. And I think that I’ve taken it upon myself to be a better finisher than I was before in everything that I do, whether that’s in practice, in games, when I block or when I’m running with the ball -- just being a finished product, that’s my goal.”
With the medical retirement of Christian Thomas this past March, on top of Junior Pomee’s still-uncertain status due to some off-the-field troubles, the Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman product is part of a tight end unit that includes just two other scholarship players in fellow redshirt junior Randall Telfer -- who spilt time with Grimble in both 2011 and 2012 -- and sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. Fortunately for the Trojans, that appears to be more than enough as each athlete possesses plenty of talent, with Grimble and Telfer serving as the veteran leaders of the group, while Cope-Fitzpatrick has emerged as a possible star of the future.
“I think between me, Randall and Jalen, we’re all in that 6-4 to 6-5 and 250-pound range -- we’re all really strong, we can run, we’re athletic and we have good hands, so it’s an exciting group,” said Grimble, a 2012 All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection. “Randall and I have been here for three years now, so we’re really developed and ready to go, but we’re still working hard to get even better. And then having Jalen there as a young guy has made us have to step up even more -- just so we can take him under our wings, kind of like what Rhett Ellison did for Randall and myself when he was here.”
With Grimble setting the tone as a hard-working, jack-of-all-trades performer who is as proficient a blocker as he is a pass-catcher, the USC tight ends fill a crucial function on the team, both in terms of their contribution to the offense, as well as on special teams. Still, with the unit collecting a total of just 43 receptions last season, there is still room for growth when it comes to the group’s place in the passing attack. But with the wide receiver corps down to just five scholarship players, not to mention Marqise Lee still around to preoccupy the attention of opposing defenses, the potential for an increased role for the tight ends certainly appears to be there.
“We saw a lot of cover 2 last year and the middle is open a lot of the time, so we’re definitely going to be in there trying to get a couple of balls thrown our way, and I feel like we’re definitely going to have a bigger role,” Grimble said. “We just have to be ready when our chance comes. I’m a patient guy, just waiting for the time, and when the ball does come, I’ll be ready to make the play.”
But if, by chance, Grimble’s numbers don’t see a dramatic rise in 2013, he'll be satisfied as long as he's contributing in some way that helps the team win games.
“Anything that I can do to help my team win, that’s what I want to do,” Grimble said. “It’s about making myself as valuable to the team as I can be. That’s what I really want to be -- the most valuable player that I can be for my team. Just help everybody out, be a leader out there, be a veteran and just embrace the opportunity that I have right now.”