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An unlikely candidate: Falcons CB Brent Grimes
Small school standout primed to start at cornerback
Atlanta Falcons second year cornerback Brent Grimes goes through drills last Saturday in Flowery Branch. Grimes, from Division II Shippensburg University, is projected to be a starter this season for the Falcons. - photo by Tom Reed


Listen to Brent Grimes talk about Falcons training camp.

FLOWERY BRANCH — From a small high school to a small college came a small guy with a small chance.

Yet Brent Grimes out of Shippensburg University — generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds — practices daily during Falcons training camp to keep, not earn, his starting spot at cornerback.

Grimes got his chance the hard way.

After signing with Atlanta as a rookie free agent in 2006, he bounced from NFL Europa to the Falcons practice squad before earning a stable spot on Atlanta’s 53-man roster late last season. He took advantage of the opportunity immediately, leading the team with 11 tackles in his NFL debut at Arizona two days before Christmas.

Now it’s Grimes time to shine.

Former starter DeAngelo Hall was traded to Oakland in the offseason. And Von Hutchins, Atlanta’s only other cornerback with more than one year of NFL experience, is due for season-ending foot surgery.

"Right now I’m starting," Grimes said. "I mean, I’m just going to go out and keep playing and competing and hopefully by the time the season starts, I’ll still have a starting job."

Grimes began his playing career in his hometown of Philadelphia and attended Northeast High School.

"I was pretty small in high school," Grimes said, "And our league in high school didn’t draw too much attention from big schools. It was a small city league, so I got attention from small state schools and a couple of Division I-AA schools.

"I went to Shippensburg knowing I had to play hard and lift weights."

Shippensburg University is a Division II school with approximately 6,600 undergraduate students, and only a third of those live on the small campus.

"When he first came here we knew he had talent," said Mark Maciejewski, Grimes’ position coach in college. "He was so athletic and had a ton of potential. We just had to get it out.

"He could do things that made your eyes light up."

During his four-year college career, Grimes amassed 140 tackles in addition to setting school records with 38 career passes defensed and 27 interceptions, which was also a Commonwealth Conference record.

He also holds the Shippensburg all-time record with 82 punt returns for 1,126 yards, and ranks fourth all-time in school history with 1,183 yards on 45 kickoff returns and three returns for touchdowns.

Grimes also earned first-team All-America honors as a junior and senior after being named to the second-team as a sophomore.

"The coaches (at Shippensburg) taught me how to work hard," Grimes said. "They knew I had a chance to go to the NFL, and that I wanted to go to the NFL, but they let me know that coming from a small school it was going to be hard, and that people were going to look over me and doubt me."

They also instilled in Grimes the need for humility and selective hearing.

While having dinner at Maciejewski’s house a couple of months ago, those qualities were on display.

"None of this has gone to his head," his former coach said. "He’s emotionally starting to get it. He’s not as big, and people say things to him in jest, but he can play and laughs about the things others say."

"At first they would say stuff like, ‘Shippensburg, what’s that?’" Grimes said. "But I understand why, and I think I am doing a good job of proving them wrong.

"I think they know I can play here and, I mean, I don’t have anything against big schools, so it’s nothing. They can joke on me all they want. It’s cool."

But nobody, including first-year Falcons head coach Mike Smith, is joking about Grimes’ play during training camp.

"Brent has been working with the first team," Smith said. "He’s a young guy that was a free agent from a small college. He’s paid his dues and worked extremely hard to get here. He’s got an opportunity to be a starter in this league and we’re very impressed by the plays he has made on the ball during camp."

His former college coach is anything but surprised.

"He loves to get the ball in his hands," Maciejewski said. "His competitive juices are flowing right now and he’s got a lot of confidence. He believes he can get it done. We believe he can get it done."

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