While training with the Canadian national team for the World Lacrosse Championships in 1978, Dave Huntley noticed his teammate's son hanging around the squad during practices and workouts.
"And he always had a stick in his hand," Huntley said of 4-year-old John Grant Jr.
Flash-forward 35 years and Grant still doesn't put down his lacrosse stick often. As a two-time Most Valuable Player in the National Lacrosse League, he's a star in the indoor game for the Colorado Mammoth. When his season with the Mammoths ended in April, he rejoined the defending champion Bayhawks to start the season in Major League Lacrosse, where he's also been MVP twice.
Huntley, meanwhile, has been able to enjoy Grant's success as a friend and coach — the attackman has played for Huntley in four World Lacrosse Championships as a member of the Canadian national team.
But Saturday night when Huntley's Hamilton Nationals (6-2) host the Chesapeake Bayhawks (4-4), the coach will be on the opposite sideline.
"It's more fun to have him on my team," Huntley said. "But whatever team he's on, John and [retired Canadian attackman] Gary Gait are the only two players I'd ever buy a ticket to watch. And this Saturday I'll get to watch him for free."
Grant's ascent to the top of the sport began when he followed his dad, John Grant Sr., while he was starring for the Canadian national team and the NLL's Philadelphia Wings.
But the younger Grant grew up in hockey-crazed Peterborough, Ontario, so he needed to be proactive if he wanted to continue his progression as a player. The kid who never stopped practicing his stick skills needed somewhere to compete.
"When I first got to high school, we didn't have a [lacrosse] team," said Grant, who also was an accomplished hockey player. "So, me and my friends started one."
Grant's high school team played indoor lacrosse, which is more popular in Canada, but he realized the field game could help him earn a scholarship to a college in the United States.
After two years at junior college, Grant landed at Delaware, where he scored 177 points in 31 games. His 5.7 points per game rank 11th all-time in Division I lacrosse.
Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw said Grant's stick skills and muscular frame — he's 6 feet 2, 225 pounds — made him dominant.
"He really worked at his stick-handling. He's one of the best," Shillinglaw said. "It just made it really hard for defenses to guard him."
Since his days at Delaware, Grant has continued to hone his cradling skills. He has had plenty of opportunity, since he spends so much time on the lacrosse field.
In addition to starring in the NLL, MLL and on the Canadian national team, Grant runs camps and clinics across the country.
"He probably has more flier miles than anyone I know," Shillinglaw said with a laugh.
Grant's work ethic and stick skills have helped him build a decorated career.
Still, the highlight of Grant's time in the MLL was while he was with the Nationals — the team he'll face tonight. Grant was reassigned to the then-Toronto Nationals in 2009 and seemed to be a perfect fit.
He was on the only MLL team is his home country and playing for Huntley, his father's longtime friend. He was able to help the sport grow in Canada and led the team to the championship in 2009, its inaugural season.
After the 2010 season, Huntley left the Nationals when they relocated to Hamilton. Three games into the 2011 campaign, Grant was traded to the Long Island Lizards.
As Huntley puts it, "Coaches were hired to be fired and players were signed to be traded." Grant understands that, but was still unhappy with the trade.
On Saturday night, he'll get a chance to exact some revenge.
"Every time I play Hamilton I want to win," Grant said. "I mean, they traded me away from the team I won a championship with."
He's excited to play in Canada this week. He grew up about a two-hour drive from Hamilton, and next week he'll stay in the area to host lacrosse camps in Toronto and Huntsville. Plus, he'll get to compete against Huntley, who rejoined the Nationals this season.
A lot has changed since Huntley met Grant. The attackman has grown several feet since 1978, he's won two World Lacrosse Championships under Huntley and he's etched his name into lacrosse record books.
But one thing remains the same; Grant still works tirelessly on his stick skills.
"He has the best stick in the sport," Huntley said. "You don't get to be that good just through God-given talent. He keeps working at it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun