College Football

Still in the Game: Grant's vision provides top-notch care for student-athletes

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 15, 2020 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 9:53 am

 

This is the latest story in the "Still in the Game" series, which chronicles former area high school and college athletes who have pursued a professional career that keeps them involved with athletics.

 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Murphy Grant's vision is different than most.

John Currie realized it and embraced it.

During his 13-year stint as the head football trainer and director of sports medicine at the University of Kansas, Grant developed a model of care in which all aspects of student-athlete support -- training, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and sports psychology -- fall under one umbrella.

"You have them report to a medical professional instead of reporting to the compliance director or the senior women's administrator or something along those lines," Grant said.

Currie believed in such a model so strongly and in Grant himself above all else that after becoming the director of athletics at Wake Forest University he created a position for Grant to fill.

So on July 31, 2019, after less than five months in charge, Currie named Grant as the Demon Deacons' senior associate athletic director/athletics health care administrator.

"John was very open-minded and saw that was the route we needed and he wanted at Wake Forest," Grant said. "I'm a senior level administrator, so I'm not involved with the on-the-field care, but I'm responsible for the overall healthcare of our student-athletes."

It's the natural progression of the career Grant chased after playing football at Quincy University.

A linebacker and defensive back for the Hawks from 1992-96, Grant finished his career with 12 interceptions, which ranks third in program history, and set the single-game interception mark with three against Winona State in the second-to-last game of his senior season. Grant returned one for a touchdown and another to the goal line.

He flirted with the idea of trying to play professionally before pursuing the original goal of becoming an athletic trainer with an NCAA Division I program.

Grant served as a graduate assistant in athletic training at Illinois State while receiving his master's degree in exercise science in 1999. He began his training career with the rookie league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

"I really enjoyed that, but it wasn't what I wanted to do," Grant said.

So he took a job as the head athletic trainer at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. From there, he went to Oklahoma State University and spent five years as the head trainer for the men's basketball team. Then it was on to Kansas and bigger and better things.

In 2017, Grant was named the first-ever executive chair of the National Athletic Trainers Association's Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine.

"The council oversees everything medically for student-athletes from Division I down to the junior colleges," Grant said. "Anything that goes on with health and safety from a collegiate athletic standpoint comes up through my committee and we're writing best practices and commenting on healthcare."

It's opened doors for Grant to speak at national conferences and serve as an authority on student-athlete care and afforded him less time to be a hands-on trainer.

"As I've continued to truly grow in the profession and looking at it from the administrative side of things, how much longer did I really want to pick guys up off the field?" Grant said. "I miss it every single day, but I feel what I'm doing now provides, like someone said, global healthcare.

"I can touch many more student-athletes in the role I am in now then when I was just working football. Now my focus can be on all 400-plus student-athletes and everything that is going on with them without the time being taken in the athletic training room."

Every job he excelled at, along with his playing career, prepared him to become such a strong advocate for student-athletes.

"You learn things along the way, and you have to continue to put tools in your toolbox to make you better," Grant said. "Being a former student-athlete, you want to make sure these student-athletes are taken care of. One, that's our jobs.

"But once you've done it and you understand the some of the pains and how to push yourself, you can really critically look at some of the things they're doing and make sure you're taking care of their health. It makes you want to have more, put more into it, give more to make sure they're doing well."

Grant's devotion should come as no surprise.

He poured his heart and soul into his playing career, which included playing on back-to-back Illini-Badger Conference championship teams.

"It was competition every single day, and we wanted to be better," Grant said. "We wanted to win. It was so much fun, so much fun."

It's given him memories, friendships and a family for the rest of his life. He also met his wife at QU. Amy Dana played soccer for the Hawks, is a certified athletic trainer and the couple has two sons, Jackson and Gavin.

"It's the relationships I built that I treasure," Grant said. "Going into college, I remember my father telling me your friends from college will be your friends forever. How true. You grew up, you matured and you start to understand what you like and what you didn't like. The relationships I made and the guys I played ball with were so special.

"I still speak to a good amount of them. We shared some sweat and blood and tears and passion, because we had some really good teams there. That brought us so much closer. That's what I remember."