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Janarion Grant dazzles in CFL debut

WINNIPEG — It would’ve been easy for Janarion Grant to ease into his first-ever game in the Canadian Football League. But where’s the fun in that?

Instead, he opted to have one of the best debuts in recent memory, posting 306 combined yards in the return game as well as two punt return touchdowns as the Bombers pulled out the 26-24 victory over the Calgary Stampeders on Thursday night.

The 25-year-old said that the first person he’d tell the performance about was his two-year-old daughter, and although she may not understand how magical her father’s performance was at her young age, the fans at IG Field knew that they witnessed something special.

The Blue Bombers returned home following an Eastern swing that saw them drop two straight games to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts. To make matters worse, they had to attempt to break out of their funk against the Stamps, who were coming into the matchup on the heels of three straight victories.

» Grant’s pair of return TDs power Bombers past Stamps
» Watch: Grant gets 15th kick return of the year
» Watch: Sayles climbs the ladder for red zone INT

» By the Numbers: View Boxscore
» Images: Calgary at Winnipeg

Grant didn’t open the scoring for the Bombers, but he had to two biggest plays of the entire game. On just his second touch of the game, he was able to burst through a seam, make a quick cut to the left sideline, and race to the pylon for an electrifying 76-yard punt return touchdown. That wouldn’t be all from Grant, however, he’d one-up that score in the second quarter. After catching the punt while already in stride down the right side, he had to make a quick pivot to avoid an oncoming tackler. He’d flip the field, getting to the edge and bursting down the left side for his second return TD of the evening – this time, an 83-yarder.

“Really, it was my teammates. They made the hole for me and I just did the rest,” Grant said. “I’m just thankful for them being able to block for me so I could get to the end zone.”

This isn’t the first time that Grant has found success in the return game. While still playing for Rutgers, he finished with a kick and punt return score in a game against Arkansas. While that performance is impressive in itself, there’s nothing quite like doing it at the pro level.

It was a good night across the board for the Bombers’ special teams unit. Nick Hallett forced a fumble off a punt – setting up the offence in a great position to score – and kicker Justin Medlock hit four field goals, the longest being a 55-yarder, which fired up the sideline.

“I think the most excited I got all night was when Justin (Medlock) hit that 55-yarder,” quarterback Matt Nichols said. “That’s one of those plays where you have a lot of field to cover if he does miss it so that one’s bigger than the three points and I think everyone knows that.”

It wasn’t a perfect night for Grant. He did have a fumble at the tail end of the first half, but his defence bailed him out, as Marcus Sayles picked off Stampeders quarterback Nick Arbuckle with just seconds to go in the second quarter.

“You can’t get lax. You’ve gotta stay ready,” Grant said. “That muffed punt was on me but 14 (Sayles) saved the day for me and I’m blessed for that.”

The only way is up for Grant with the Bombers. He’ll be able to further grow his skills while sharing return reps with Lucky Whitehead. He also has the luxury of playing under head coach Mike O’Shea, who’s no stranger to special teams.

“He’s shown he’s pretty special,” said O’Shea of Grant’s great performance. “Our guys will get a little more used to him and get an understanding of how we’ve got to work for him and he’ll get a better look too. But what a great debut.

“His second touch: he takes it to the house. Had another good one called back late but I thought we were very clean in that department. It was fun to watch.”

Grant will have a chance to get acquainted with the city of Winnipeg over the next week. The Bombers will host the BC Lions on Aug. 15, where they’ll have a chance to move to 7-2 on the year.