TAMPA, FL. – South Florida’s “Salute to Service” game Friday night will have plenty of meaning for senior linebacker Antonio Grier, Jr.
That is not just because the Bulls are hosting Cincinnati, which is No. 2 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Rather, Grier will have 15 family members and relatives on hand at Raymond James Stadium. Eight of them have served in the United States Armed Forces.
“This is a big game for me,” said Grier, during the Bulls’ weekly press conference Tuesday. “I can’t wait for the game, and I can’t wait to see the smiles on their faces at the game.”
They will be arriving from in-state and out of state. Those in attendance will include his parents, Antonio and Mary, both of whom served.
The junior Grier wanted to follow in his mother’s and father’s footsteps, but Mary wanted him to attend college instead.
“Coming out of high school, I wanted to go to the marines,” said Grier, who lost an uncle who served. “I didn’t have a scholarship at the time. I am grateful to be here (at USF).”
As a youth growing up in Atlanta, Grier, who is one of six siblings, did not understand why his parents and relatives were often away from home.
“It was tough growing up as a kid and (family members) going away and not knowing where they were going,” he said. “Mom and dad wouldn’t tell you where they were going. As I got older, I knew they were going away to serve the country. They were doing what was best for them and what was best for us.”
When Grier goes to battle on the gridiron, he does so with a level of intensity and responsibility that might be matched, but not surpassed.
His effort this season has resulted in 65 tackles and three sacks, both team-leading figures.
Grier also has the first two interceptions of his career, including one he returned 69 yards for a touchdown against visiting Tulsa on October 16. He also heads into the game against the Bearcats (6 p.m., ESPN2) with two of the team’s four forced fumbles.
“Between the white lines, no matter what I am going through, I am going to put it all on the line every game, every snap,” he said. “It is not for me. It is for the guy next to me because he is doing the same. No matter how bad we are hurting, it doesn’t matter. I am doing it for the guy next to me. That’s what I live for.”
On Friday evening, Grier will continue to battle to the final whistle for his teammates and, certainly, a group of special people who will be cheering for him.
“As I got older, I was able to look back and understand my childhood and why things happened the way they did,” he said. “It was because my family went to fight for this country.”
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