The St. Ambrose University football team was good this past fall, but somehow must have made its way onto Santa's naughty list.|
The playoff-qualifying Fighting Bees ended up with a big lump of coal in its collective stocking over the holidays when freshman receiving standout Zach Grant told Coach Mike Magistrelli that he was transferring.
Grant, who had a record-setting season for the 9-2 Fighting Bees, told staff and teammates that he has accepted an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on at Northern Illinois University and will attempt to earn a scholarship there.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Grant will have to sit out a year before becoming eligible to play with the Huskies, who are preparing for this week's Orange Bowl appearance.
"Ever since I picked up a football, playing Division I football was a dream of mine,'' Grant said in an interview this fall during his breakout season. "After high school, I was hoping for that, but it just didn't work out.''
After his stellar prep career at 3-time reigning Class 4A state champ Rochester, Grant had received preferred walk-on offers from the Illinois state schools, but opted for St. Ambrose where he said he felt comfortable with the size of the school and excited about the opportunity to start as a freshman and be an immediate impact player.
But when he put up huge numbers for the Bees – including single-season SAU records with 91 receptions and 16 touchdown catches – his thoughts turned back to a bigger stage.
"Ambrose really helped me get my name out there and it was a good experience there,'' Grant told Springfield radio station WFMB this week. "I met a lot of good people there and was fortunate to be part of that program.''
Grant, an All-Mid-States Football Association Midwest League selection, finished the season ranked in the top-10 nationally in the NAIA for receptions, TDs and receiving yards (1,170). His receiving yardage was second in SAU single-season history behind Michael Hayward's 1,292 in 2008. He was already closing in on the top five for career receiving yardage.
"As a coach, I was disappointed,'' said Magistrelli. "But at the same time, I think very highly of Zach and was supportive of him attempting this.''
Grant's transfer will obviously leave a big hole in the St. Ambrose offensive attack led by senior-to-be quarterback Eric Williamson. But Magistrelli feels that with the return of senior-to-be receivers Sam O'Donnell and Mike Munro and the addition of redshirt sophomore Tyler Hovious, who was injured in preseason camp last fall, the Bees have some receiving weapons returning.
"We thought we had an outstanding receiver for three more years, but obviously that's not the situation now,'' said Magistrelli. "It changes our long-term needs in terms of recruiting, as well.''
Magistrelli said that he thought in the back of his mind that Grant transferring was a possibility, especially because of his standout season and showing his tremendous skill set.
"But I didn't really think it was going to happen,'' said Magistrelli. "I felt like he was having a great experience here at Ambrose.''
But a few weeks after SAU lost in the opening round of the NAIA National Football Championship Series, Magistrelli said that Grant approached him about looking at potential options for moving up the football ladder.
Grant admitted that it wasn't an easy decision.
"I was lucky enough to get recruited by Ambrose,'' Grant told WFMB. "They treated me really well and that will make it tough leaving.
"Eric (Williamson) is a great player … and it's tough leaving Coach Magistrelli. I was treated like gold there.''
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