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Latef Grim's football tale

Pitt's Latef Grim gets away from his sport by writing poetry and hanging out in a coffeehouse, but he doesn't stay away long. He discovered just how much he loved the game when he stopped playing for a year.

Sunday, September 26, 1999

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Riding in a Pitt campus shuttle several days ago, Latef Grim noticed a man walking down the street who seemed to be having a problem.

 
  Pitt wide receiver Latef Grim often goes to an Oakland coffeehouse - usually alone - after football practice. "This is a getaway." he said. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

"I got off the bus and kind of observed him. I overheard him speak to a lady. He needed 55 cents for the bus. I had it, so ..."

Grim gave the guy the change.

It surely never occurred to the man that the kind-hearted stranger was a star Pitt football player, the top receiver in the Big East Conference last year. Had he known that, though, he might have assumed that Grim does not fit the bloodthirsty, big-headed stereotype of a football player -- and he would have been right. Most likely, he never gave the incident another thought.

Grim did. It's the kind of interesting little life experience he looks for.

He wrote a poem about the guy who was short on bus fare. He hopes his collection of what he calls "free writing" poetry one day will become a book.

Poetry in motion

Grim doesn't write about football. Poetry is one of his escapes.

So is his apartment. Last year, his first at Pitt, he roomed with two teammates. This season, he lives alone.

And there is the Starbucks in Oakland, not the kind of place anyone would necessarily think of as a haunt for football players. The jazz coming from several speakers is loud enough to enjoy but is not intrusive. Tables and chairs are arranged informally. A couple of cushy chairs and a sofa sit near a fireplace. Recessed lighting illuminates earth-tone walls.

Grim goes there often in the evening after football practice, usually alone. It might seem natural for someone from California to be drawn to an eclectic coffeehouse, but Grim doesn't drink the stuff. He usually has cocoa with whipped cream.

One night last week, as Grim sipped his hot chocolate, some of the other patrons included a medical student in blue scrubs huddled over a table full of papers, a woman writing diligently and a goo-goo eyed couple studying one another.

"I think that's the reason I like it," Grim said.

"Over here there might be people talking about the stock market. Over there people might be reading."

Before Starbucks opened, Grim hung out in the back of Hemingway's restaurant down the street, watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" and chilling. Now he prefers the coffee shop.

"This is a getaway," he said.

'I love football'

 
    Summer Rain


Asked for an example of his poetry, Latef Grim chose this from his collection of more than 45 poems:

Some like the sun
I like the rain
I'm an indigo iris blowing in the summer wind
The sun sucks the moisture out of my long sweeping petals
Killing everything around me leaving me dry empty and alone.

The dark clouds swallow the sun whole as a mist of rain slowly sprinkles me
I thirst for the rain more and more as showers of diamond droplets gently fold my petals, caressing me inside and out
In the aftermath I glow in the moon's light
Dancing as the last few drops of rain trickle down my spine.

Some like the sun
I like the rain
I'm an indigo iris blowing in the summer wind

-- Latef Grim

 
 

Just because Grim likes to escape from football doesn't mean he dislikes the sport.

"I love football," he said, "but there are sometimes when you want to clear your head."

And other times when he wants to clear the secondary. And does.

Grim, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior from Stockton, Calif., has a team-best 14 receptions for 186 yards for the Panthers (2-1), who were idle yesterday. His 4.67 catches per game ranked him third in the Big East and his 62 receiving yards per game ranked him fourth before league games yesterday.

That's a little behind his torrid pace of a year ago, when he arrived at Pitt and surprised everyone. He jumped into a starting role and, despite missing a game because of a concussion, finished with 60 receptions (second best in Pitt history) for 906 yards (tops in the Big East that season, third best in team history) and nine touchdowns. His average of six receptions per game set a Panthers season record. He led the team in scoring. And his average of 90.6 yards per game led the Big East and put him 25th nationally. He was the only sophomore in the top 25.

Some of his catches -- such as a diving, one-handed grab in the end zone at Syracuse that resulted in bruised ribs -- were highlight-reel quality.

It doesn't bother Grim that the door opened for him when senior Terry Murphy -- who the year before had been the Big East's top receiver in his first season at Pitt -- had early-season shoulder surgery.

"I saw the opportunity, and Steve Mooshagian [then Pitt's receivers coach] said that when you see the opportunity, take it and run," Grim said.

He did. In Pitt's opening 48-41 victory over Villanova, Grim began his first-team All-Big East season with eight catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

"I don't think anyone expected him to do as well as he did last year," Pitt Coach Walt Harris said. "Now we expect him to build on that and be even better."

Grim expects that, too, although his outlook has changed some over the past couple of months.

As for records, he said, "That's all within a plan my God has for me."

As for his play, he has some specific plans.

One is to contain his feelings better on the field. He learned that the hard way. Grim was suspended for about a week during the preseason for an incident involving Harris during a frustrating moment in practice. It was subtle, really. Not a swear word. Not a single-finger salute.

"I smiled at my coach. It was kind of a smirk," Grim said. "It was disrespectful. I think I just reacted and I let my emotions get to me. I think I got the right punishment for what I did."

Another of Grim's new goals was derived, in part, from something that happened in Pitt's 20-17 loss at No. 2 Penn State a couple weeks ago.

The Panthers were driving for a potential winning touchdown when quarterback John Turman got sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down, leaving Pitt to try for a tying 52-yard field goal. It was blocked.

"A lot of people don't know, but I busted a route on that play," Grim said, taking some of the blame for the costly sack. "Since then, my goals have changed a little. Now it's that I want to be consistent."

He wants that for the team, too, after Pitt went 2-9 last year.

The Panthers can top last season's victory total with a win Saturday against Temple, which was 0-3 before playing at Marshall yesterday. Pitt, though, has lost to Temple the past two years and lost three of the last four games.

"This is a big hill for us," Grim said. "A big hill."

Praise for his mates

 
Latef Grim has a team-leading 14 receptions this season. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette) 

For Grim, there is no opponent worthier than one of his own teammates.

Just about every day in practice, the receivers and defensive backs take each other on one-on-one. It's one of the more interesting drills and the most interesting matchup is Grim against cornerback Hank Poteat, a fellow first-team all-conference player last year.

"It's really exciting," said Harris, who formerly coached at Ohio State. "It's like watching Shawn Springs against Terry Glenn."

Grim and Poteat look forward to the challenge.

"I love it any time I can go against Hank," Grim said. "He is the best guy who has covered me and I have gone against the so-called best defensive backs -- Dre Bly at North Carolina, David Macklin at Penn State, Charles Fisher at West Virginia.

"By far, I feel that Hank pushes me the best."

Grim holds his own against the senior, and has since he arrived at Pitt.

"He gives me a lot of work," Poteat said. "We look forward to it."

In fact, a friendship has been born from it, and the two go out of their way to tutor each other.

"One week he might need to work on the bump-and-run," Poteat said. "Another week, I might want to work on the off-cover."

They also offer friendly critiques.

"He'll say, 'OK, this is what you did. You opened your hips a little more than you usually do.' Something like that," Grim said.

A rocky start

Not everyone has been as helpful to Grim, who almost didn't make it to Division I football.

In his first attempt, in sixth grade, a Pop Warner coach dismissed him as not good enough. Two years later, a different Pop Warner coach gave Grim the chance he needed.

He blossomed at Franklin High School -- he was the football team's MVP twice and also MVP of the basketball and track teams -- but didn't quite have the grades for NCAA football. So he settled on being a San Jose State University student and playing flag football. That lasted one school year.

"I realized I really loved football," Grim said.

His friends told him he was crazy not to just play the next season at San Jose State, but he wanted a scholarship to a bigger school. He transferred to San Joaquin Delta Junior College.

Some of his credits transferred, but he wanted to spend just one season in junior college, so he juggled football and a 20-credit course load in the fall of 1997. He had 58 receptions for 1,114 yards.

Grim took another 24 credits his second semester and, after being recruited by Mooshagian, came to Pitt as a sophomore. Most junior college players who transfer to Division I schools arrive as juniors.

Grim's nearly immediate success with the Panthers hid the fact that he had a hard time adjusting. Like a lot of the other West Coast junior college transfers Pitt was bringing in then -- including his roommates, receiver Julius Dixon and quarterback Turman -- Grim struggled with the weather.

That wasn't all. His son, Derrion, was born about the time he moved East.

"I felt responsible to be there, but I'm trying to provide so his future will be better," Grim said.

Grim is no longer involved with Derrion's mother, but he talks to his son daily.

"He knows who is daddy is," Grim said.

Grim will get to see Derrion, now 1, this weekend. Grim's mother, Patricia Ann Boyd, is coming to see Grim play at Pitt for the first time, and she's bringing Derrion. That makes it a big week for Grim. A a victory over Temple would cap it nicely.

The big week actually starts today, Grim's 21st birthday. He said a few friends will take him out for a while after practice.

No, Grim said, smiling, they probably will not hit the coffeehouse. Not tonight.



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