To understand why Andy Linn loves coaching Lafayette's Hezekiah Grimsley so much, look no further than the Rams' 27-21 win over Grafton last Friday in the second round of the Group 4A East Region playoffs.
Grimsley, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior, had only two receptions for 18 yards — minuscule numbers for a guy who netted 724 yards receiving and had nine touchdown catches during the regular season. But his determination never wavered, and he made big contributions in helping the Rams (12-0) advance to a state quarterfinal game against Eastern View (12-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wanner Stadium.
"I know they were trying to keep the ball out of my hands, so I focused on other ways to help the team," Grimsley said. "It's a blessing to have the skill to do everything I can do."
Linn said, "We couldn't get him the ball because they did a great job in coverage. But he never comes over and says 'somebody get me the ball' or complains.
"It's never 'me, me, me.' It's all about the team. Still, every chance he gets, he makes something out of it."
Like intercepting a pass near the goal line against Grafton. And like short-circuiting a potentially long kickoff return with a shoestring tackle or booting two punts of more than 50 yards.
He also returned a kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown with the score tied in the second half. The kick-return touchdown was his sixth of the season.
"Returning kicks is my favorite thing because you get the ball and get a chance to make things happen," Grimsley said. "It's easy because they're coming at you full-speed and, if you're elusive, you can make them miss."
Teammate Tristan Packer said, "There were five guys around him and he made them miss and got a touchdown out of it. He really gets us up when he does that."
Linn added, "His speed is one thing, but for a kid who's 6-foot-1, he's really elusive, which is fun to watch. He doesn't talk, nothing.
"He's just enjoying himself, having fun the whole time."
That's evident from the perpetual look of confidence Grimsley wears along with his football pads. Committing to play receiver for Virginia Tech before his senior season has allowed him to relax more than ever.
"That took a lot off of my shoulders," Grimsley said. "When the recruiting stopped, I could focus on my team.
"I didn't want to worry about college. I wanted to treat this year by going out with a (state championship) ring.
For all of the great work Grimsley did at cornerback and on special teams against Grafton, his most spectacular plays — even on a two-reception night — came at receiver. The first was the one-handed grab he made by reaching behind himself for an 11-yard reception and a first down on the Rams' first touchdown drive.
The soft-spoken Grimsley treated the catch as routine.
"Cesar (Ward, the quarterback) threw the ball low, and the only way I could catch it is with one hand," Grimsley said. "I tried to adjust to the ball, but I couldn't get the other hand around."
Later in the half, Grimsley nearly extended another drive with a one-handed grab as he was falling out of bounds. Though it looked like he kept both feet in bounds upon gaining possession, the official ruled otherwise — a decision Linn disputes.
"Look at the video and you'll see he was clearly in bounds," Linn said.
Regardless, the play added to a legacy that will put Grimsley in the discussion with the best football players in Lafayette history: NFL standouts Lawrence Taylor, Ron Springs and Mel Gray.
"Hezekiah is on a whole other level from the rest of us with his athleticism," Packer said. "His instincts, athleticism and game speed are just a pure athlete.
"That's why he's (Bay Rivers District and Conference 18) Player of the Year and why he's going to (play football at) Virginia Tech."
Linn said, "I've been at Lafayette 20-plus years and we've had great kids: Rian Thompson, Jahlil Green, Brandon Villanueva-Pernell and all those kids. But I was telling Coach (Kyle) Neve (a Lafayette assistant) that I think he's the best one we've had go through as a total football player.
"The things he does with the football and his football acumen, the way he does things in a game, are the best I've ever seen here."
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.