The 2013 season certainly hasn’t come without its challenges for Xavier Grimble.
Dinged up with ankle and shoulder injuries, it seemed like the tight end never got his chance to get going in USC's pass offense.
That changed this past weekend.
With a career-high six catches for 46 yards, the 6-foot-5 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman product provided quarterback Cody Kessler with a big, steady receiving option to lean on in the Trojans' 47-29 victory over Colorado.
“It just felt good,” said Grimble, a fourth-year junior. “I always like to stay ready for whenever my opportunity comes, and it came. They called my number a few times, and I was able to make the plays.”
With USC tight ends averaging under two receptions per game as a unit heading into the contest, the production of Grimble, and Randall Telfer -- who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass -- was somewhat of a revelation.
According to Grimble, offensive coordinator Clay Helton has always wanted to utilize the tight ends more as receiving threats, but he simply couldn’t because the group has been wracked by injuries virtually all season long.
But with Grimble feeling the best he has in a while, in addition to the improved health of Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, there are reasons to believe that last weekend’s performance might just be a primer of things to come.
“It’s been a rough season for myself and the other tight ends,” said Grimble, who has amassed 21 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown in 2013. “We’ve been injured a little bit, and it affected our place in the passing game. It’s not that Coach [Helton] doesn’t want to use us. We just haven’t been up to full speed. And now that we’re back and getting fully healthy, I definitely think there will be more balls coming our way.”
That's exactly what Grimble wants.
“I love catching passes and being physical with the defense,” Grimble said. “Just creating a different piece in the offense as a big target who can move well.”
Still, Grimble knows that as a tight end in USC's pro-style offense, he's just as valuable to the team for his blocking abilities, and it's a job that he's grown to enjoy over the course of time.
“As I got older, I kind of noticed that a pancake or finishing someone off on a block is almost just as good as catching a ball,” Grimble said. “I get a thrill out of it.”
Grimble hopes to follow up his strong performance last weekend with another one this Saturday when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA at home in the Coliseum. It’s a matchup that will pit him up against a pair of highly regarded outside linebackers for the Bruins.
“They’ve got some good players over there,” Grimble said. “They’ve got Anthony Barr, who’s probably a top-10 pick, and Myles Jack. They both play on the end so that’s going to be a big challenge for me, and I’m excited for it. I’m always ready to go up against whoever the top guys are. Those are the type of guys that I’m supposed to be going against.”
And with memories of the Trojans’ 38-28 loss to UCLA in 2012 still fresh in his mind, it’s a game, and a test, that can’t come soon enough.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Grimble said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”