on October 28, 2013 8 a.m.
HS Football Player of the Year 2013
- MLive announces Top 10 finalists for the Michigan High School Football Player of the Year honor
- Alex Grace, Saginaw Swan Valley
- Jayru Campbell, Detroit Cass Tech
- Kyler Shurlow, Lowell, Story Wednesday
- Ross Williams, Birmingham Groves, Story Thursday
- Deshaun Thrower, Muskegon High, Story Friday
- Kyle Bambard, Walled Lake Western, Story Nov. 4
- Travis Smith, Ithaca, Story Nov. 5
- Lawrence Marshall, Southfield, Story Nov. 6
- Brian Cole, Saginaw Heritage, Story Nov. 7
- Sean Koski, L’Anse Creuse North, Story Nov. 8
- Names on the panel deciding the award
This is the first story profiling our Top 10 Michigan High School Football Player of the Year finalists. This is the first year for the award. The winner will be announced on November 25.
SAGINAW, MI — Eventually, Freeland football coach Kevin Townsend thought, Alex Grace is going to get tired.
Eventually, he’s going to slow down.
After nine games, Townsend is still waiting.
Grace, a Saginaw Swan Valley junior, is a finalist for Michigan High School Player of the Year after putting up his second consecutive 2,000-yard season as a tailback for the 9-0 Vikings. One of the wins came over rival Freeland, 29-19.
“He ran 33 times against us for 338 yards, and I thought we did a pretty good job on him,” Townsend said. “But he just kept getting stronger. Every time we hit him, he fell forward. And he’s not going down the first time he gets hit either.”
Grace is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound back who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He has not received a collegiate offer yet, but has visits planned to Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana, Akron and Western Michigan.
As a sophomore, Grace ran for 2,148 yards and 27 touchdowns, leading the Vikings to the Division 4 state semifinals, where Swan Valley lost a 38-0 decision to Detroit Country Day.
Grace ran 20 times for 72 yards, a decent number but not up to his usual standards. It was a disappointment and a motivator.
“I expect to outwork everybody else,” Grace said. “If I think someone else is working harder, I tell myself that I have to keep working harder than I already am.
“This year, I’m faster and stronger. I’m not just a physical runner. I can do more.”
Grace works out at school and at the Saginaw Athletic Club with SAC president Ryan McGraw, who starred at Nouvel Catholic Central and then for the Coastal Carolina baseball team. McGraw holds the Chanticleers’ single-season record (63) and career (160) stolen base records, set from 2001 through 2004.
“He’s what I consider a no-risk recruit,” McGraw said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s dedicated, he’s smart, he’s humble. There’s no risk with him. He’s going to make your program better no matter what.
“Plus his work ethic is off the charts. He’s absolutely dedicated. He doesn’t miss a single day. Lifting is Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday is acceleration training. Saturday is velocity day. Sunday is repair day.”
Grace’s workouts include exercises that include frog hops, one-legged frog hops, zig-zags, jump sprints, up-backs, fire hydrants, scorpions, bullet belts and iron crosses.
Alex Grace bio
40-yard dash: 4.4
2012 Stats: 2,148 yards, 27 touchdowns
2013 Stats: 2,267 yards, 30 touchdowns
College visits: Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana, Akron, Western Michigan
But McGraw added a preseason primer for Grace, a six-week workout that would either break him or give him unrivaled leg, foot and ankle strength. McGraw sent him to the sandpit.
Grace spent three weeks in a 40-by-40 yard sandpit, sprinting and making cuts in the sand. He followed with resistance sprints up a hill and with sled pulls.
“He’s just a good, hard-working kid,” Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina said. “He has a great work ethic and a good understanding of football. He’s played several positions for us and understands what we’re trying to do.”
That comes, Grace explains, from fifth grade football. Grace played in the Swan Valley youth league, which has size restrictions for positions.
“I was never the guy who carried the ball because I was too big,” Grace said. “So I blocked. I was the fullback. I didn’t mind it at all. Even now, blocking is a lot of fun.
“The running back gets the credit, but I learned when I was young that it’s the blockers that make the difference. I used to be one of those guys.”
Once Grace reached the seventh grade, however, he moved to running back, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Johnathon Grace, who ran for more than 1,800 yards in his senior season at Swan Valley. Johnathon Grace played football at Michigan Tech.
“I noticed my brother was really good, so I wanted to be a running back like him,” Grace said. “I learned a lot from him. Even now, I tell myself things when I’m running, things he told me.
“Secure the ball. Play every play like it’s your last. Run hard. Get one more yard. Telling yourself stuff like that, you can motivate yourself.”
To McGraw, Grace’s attitude creates the perfect football package.
“He’s got the physical talent … he ran a :10.7 in the 100 in track in the spring,” McGraw said. “I text him at all hours, follow him on Twitter. I never find him at parties or out late at night. He’s at home, studying or working.
“There’s a reason for his success. He’s got the physical talent, but he’s got the attitude and work ethic to turn that talent into something special.”
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