Jakeem Grant exclusive: The Miami Dolphins' speed-skating gamer out to prove himself as the NFL's fastest player
"This is it, this is the time. I've put all my hard work into it and I'm big off of the saying 'you reap what you sow' and so I'm definitely ready"
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 03/09/20 5:10pm
Every Saturday morning Sylvia Whittaker would drop her son Jakeem off at the local skating rink in Texas, along with his brothers Markeith and Keonte.
They would stay there until the evening, often playing an adapted version of tag called 'sharks and minnows'. Four players, the 'sharks', were tasked with chasing down 20 others, the 'minnows', until there was nobody left to catch.
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One morning Sylvia decided to stick around and spectate for the first time. She watched as all but one of the minnows fell, while the sole survivor continued to slalom his way through the clutches of the sharks with ease.
Before football and the NFL, Jakeem Grant was an inline speed-skater.
"The next day she literally signed me up for football and I'm like, 'what are you doing? I like to skate, I'm a skater!'," said Grant in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.
"The rest was history. So I started playing football."
The Miami Dolphins wide receiver continues to skate to this day, strapping on his lime green and black skates for fun and for added exercise. He even channels the fundamentals on the football field in an ever so slightly more ferocious version of the game.
"I love making guys miss," he said. "Sharks and minnows took over for my whole entire football career.
"That's all I'm thinking about, anytime I'm making guys miss I'm thinking I'm playing sharks and minnows."
While Grant's mum had no problem finding a hobby with which to occupy her son, the father of three has had to exhaust the depth of his imagination in order to keep his children busy across a coronavirus-stricken off-season.
"It's a bitter-sweet. Love being at home spending time with my wife and kids, but sometimes your kids drive you absolutely crazy," he joked. "But I love them, there's never a dull moment in my house.
"I can't run out of playing games with them, they want me to invent a new game everyday, like 'Dad can you tell us a scary story? Dad can I go swimming? Can you get in the pool with us?'"
As he is speaking one of Grant's daughters enters the room asking him to open something for her. Fatherhood is a job he cannot help but smile about though.
He describes how his twin daughters 'gang up' on their brother by putting their tickets together to try and beat him at bowling. "I love that, that brings pure joy to my heart".
Grant plays the 'fun dad' role to perfection. When asked for places to visit in Miami he recommends Xtreme Action Park, where you can play laser tag, go rock climbing, "destroy people" on go-karts, jump on a bouncy castle and, of course, skate.
He is also a self-confessed video game obsessive, from Call of Duty to NBA 2K. Grant admits he has watched the Steven Spielberg film 'Ready Player One', based on a virtual reality game, "about 100 times" and has set his sights on becoming a professional gamer when his football career is over, maybe even design a game of his own.
"I went and bought the Oculus Quest (Virtual Reality Headset)," he explained.
"That's how much of a gamer I am. I was just like 'man, I hope they have a game like that on the Oculus Quest just like they had on Ready Player One'.
"I know they don't have that on there yet but I know in the next couple of years the Oculus Quest is going to be crazy."
"The Oculus Quest and an all-direction treadmill. Just even thinking about it has be out here sweating, I love it, I'm a game head."
Grant on his love of gaming
Perhaps there are four kids in the Grant household. It isdifficult to imagine him struggling for ways to pass the time when Covid-19 confined the Dolphins and the rest of the NFL to their homes earlier this year.
Like all players, Grant found himself away from the team at a typically busy time of year - something his daughters were ruthlessly quick to question.
"Kylie my youngest daughter is like 'dad did you get fired or something?'," he explained. "I'm like 'wow, no it's Covid', so we had to explain to them that they pushed back the schedule for us."
It is a question he is grateful he no longer has to answer, with the Dolphins currently in the thick of training camp as they build up to their Week One match-up with the New England Patriots.
Making guys miss as he did in sharks and minnows remains the goal for Grant in 2020, but this time with an added determination to do so as a wide receiver.
Grant has proven himself as a return specialist since entering the NFL, amassing 2,031 yards and two touchdowns on 81 kick-off returns in four seasons, as well as 589 yards and two touchdowns on 52 punt returners. As a receiver, however, he has mustered just 635 yards for two touchdowns from 90 targets.
The decision from both Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson to opt out of the season due to concerns over the coronavirus has made for an open competition across from lead receiver DeVante Parker. A competition Grant backs himself to succeed in.
"I made a name for myself in the return game and now I'm going in to fight and make a name for myself as a receiver," he said. "I think that's what's going to happen this year. As a matter of fact I know that's what's going to happen this year.
"I felt like no matter what I'm the best player on the field. Even when my boy DeVante is out there I always tell him I feel like I'm the best on the field. I know for a fact that guys can't do what I can do."
That is not the only thing he tells Parker, Grant adding he often bemoans his team-mate for leaving finger prints on his tablet. It is why he never leaves the house without his handkerchief.
From the skating rink to the field, he epitomises the need for speed. It is a trait he is hoping can help propel him up the receiver depth chart alongside Parker.
Friends and team-mates tell Grant he would be well suited to a Lamborghini because he is so fast, rather than the Ford F-150 with a five-inch lift that he currently drives.
"Some people say I have short man syndrome or something like that and they're like 'man you gotta jump to get in there', I love my truck," said the five-foot-seven Grant.
When the debate surrounding the fastest player in the NFL gravitates towards the Kansas City Chiefs' Tyreek Hill, the Texas Tech product sits quietly with the belief that title belongs to him.
His claim dates back to 2016 when a New Orleans Saints scout claimed he ran a 4.10 40-yard dash at a Pro Day prior to being drafted by the Dolphins in the sixth round. Texas Tech, meanwhile, had him down at 4.34.
Grant was electrifying in his four years at college, making 255 catches for 2,289 yards and 27 touchdowns, including 1,268 yards for 10 touchdowns in 2015. He also ran back 87 kicks for 2,169 yards and four touchdowns to assert himself as one of the most talented returners entering the pros.
"I'm going to continue to push that message that I am [the fastest]," he added. "Everybody says it's Tyreek and I'm just waiting to show them that I am the fastest guy in the league and I'm going to continue to say that.
"One day me and Tyreek are going to race as he did with Mecole Hardman, one day we're going to get that race for the fans and if everybody wants to come out we can do it for charity or whatever.
"We're supposed to have raced for a while now so the time has come. I'm not going to say who's the fastest, I want the fans to come out there and see it."
Before Hill, a race with Dolphins running back Matt Breida is on the agenda following his arrival from the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the off-season. Grant, though, admits that will have to be put on hold for now as the pair look to avoid any niggles ahead of the new season.
Injuries have been a frustrating impediment to Grant's progress in Miami, striking him down at key moments amid an effort to enhance his role with the team. Were it not for injuries, the rest of the NFL may already be acknowledging him as the league's fastest.
He played all 16 games in 2016 and 2017, but in Week 10 of the 2018 campaign sustained a season-ending Achilles injury against the Green Bay Packers that would later require surgery.
It came at a time when Adam Gase had been starting to implement Grant more as a receiver, the now-New York Jets head coach having been an important figure to the 27-year-old both on and off the field.
Grant had opened the season with a 102-yard kick-off return touchdown in a win over the Tennessee Titans, before later producing a 70-yard punt return touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. Gase had also put him in for a career-high 282 snaps on offense.
"I'm like 'man I'll never get back to normal' because I'd never been hurt before, never had a surgery or anything so I'm thinking in my head I'll never get back to what I was doing," he said.
Despite the injury, the Dolphins underlined their faith in Grant in August 2019 by handing him a four-year extension and a chance to impress new head coach Brian Flores.
Impress he did, "killing training camp" before pulling his hamstring ahead of the opening pre-season game.
He was back for the regular season and in Week 11 returned a kick-off for a 101-yard touchdown against the Buffalo Bills as well as making three catches for 32 yards, only to pick up a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns next time out. Again, his season had ended prematurely.
"Last season left a bad taste in my mouth so I went into this off-season grinding, complete tunnel vision, going after it, getting three workouts a day and just as much as I can to stay healthy," he said.
"I would say it's more mental because mentally it takes you to a dark place. I was thinking in my head 'man I'm never going to get better, I'm never going to overcome this'.
"It was scary, it was a dark place where I doubted myself and it was a place I had to overcome and get myself out of there. I would say it's more of a mental aspect than a physical because once you conquer your mental aspect, the physical takes its place."
Grant has never allowed the outside noise to define him, whether it be regarding his size entering the league or his durability in light of the injury setbacks.
Even heading into year five, his excitement to be playing in the NFL is reminiscent to that of a rookie.
"It's been absolutely amazing, time flies by and I definitely don't take for granted," said Grant. "I absolutely love it."
For Grant, the 2020 season represents the beginning of a new era in Miami as coach Flores builds on the promise he showed last year while Tua Tagovailoa looms as one of the most gifted players to come out of college.
From a personal perspective, he is aiming to bury his injury woes and put together his most productive campaign yet.
"I think this is going to be the year that I actually show guys that I am a receiver first and then a returner and that I've been a receiver all along," he said.
"This is it, this is the time. I've put all my hard work into it and I'm big off of the saying 'you reap what you sow' and so I'm definitely ready.
"I think this is going to be the new Miami year. This is the new version of Miami. We've got a lot of guys that are going to do great things and elevate this team.
"We're going to be a force to be reckoned."