CHARLOTTESVILLE — Compared to the first number Nick Grant was assigned as a University of Virginia football player, two subsequent seasons wearing No. 20 did not attract any strange looks.
However, when he was given an option as one of the top preseason performers this year, Grant jumped at the opportunity to wear No. 1, the jersey number that previously belonged to now-graduated running back Jordan Ellis.
No way Grant was going to recycle an earlier uniform, No. 69, which was assigned to him as a freshman in 2016.
Grant was redshirted that season, not that a defensive back wearing No. 69 would be allowed.
“My first year, I didn’t get a number till Week 9,” said Grant, a junior from Courtland High School in Spotsylvania. “That’s when I wore No. 69 at DB.
“I’ve always been like just a hungry individual. I was No. 1 in high school. I saw J.E. get No. 1. [He was] the hardest-working player on the team the last couple of years and I was like, ‘I want that to be me.’ I want to be known for my works.
“So, when I finally got the opportunity to pick fourth or fifth overall, it was like, ‘I’m wearing No. 1.’ I didn’t really care what my teammates had to say. I was like, ‘I’ve worked for this, I’ve earned this’ and we’ve got a big principle of ‘earned not given,’ so this is my number.”
Although Grant played in a total of 24 games for UVa over the past two seasons, it was in limited action, and he had not started until Saturday night at Pittsburgh, where the Cavaliers held the Panthers scoreless in the second half in a 30-14 victory.
Grant was listed as a strong safety before the season, but UVa does not lack for experienced defensive backs and Grant stepped in when cornerback Darrius Bratton suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp.
The Cavaliers’ other starting cornerback is 2018 first-team All-ACC selection Bryce Hall.
“I would say it all started two years ago, probably with Quin Blanding, with how we learned to study film,” Grant said. “Bryce is my roommate, so we’re pretty tight. That’s one of my best friends.
“The more you hang out with people, the more you act like them. A lot of people say you are who you surround yourself with. If you see one guy like that and you see the success he brings, naturally you’re going to gravitate towards whatever they’re doing to see how it will work for you.
“That’s our entire group. We’re film-hungry, we’re work-hungry and we just want to work all the time. [Hall] does everything with diligence. He’s very intentional in everything he does.”
For his first start, Grant was joined in the secondary by a trio — Hall and safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson — with a combined 64 starts.
“I’m going to be honest with you; I was kind of nervous,” Grant said. “There were jitters at the beginning. After I got that out of my system, it was done. I just have big confidence in who’s playing around me.
“I just know, at all times, my boys have got my back. That kind of calmed me down as the game went on.”