There’s only one real driving force behind Tony Grimes’ work ethic. Only one true reason he plays football, really.
He loves the game itself and has a strong passion for it. But during those grueling practices and offseason training sessions, if he’s about to hit his breaking point, he just has to jolt his own memory and remember what this is all about. His why. His trophy.
“For me to make it to the league is a huge step,” Grimes told Eleven Warriors. “That’s my dream. All this right now is walking a path and accomplishing things to get me to that big trophy of mine. That trophy is what’s pushing me.
“I just think of my family and my mom to push me even harder. If I’m on the edge of giving up, I start thinking, ‘What is my 'why' and what am I doing it for?’”
That why is what has pushed Virginia’s top-rated prospect into becoming America’s No. 1-ranked junior cornerback, the No. 10 overall 2021 recruit in the nation and one of the highest players atop Ohio State’s recruiting board.
That why also may be pushing the five-star talent into a Columbus dorm room.
You know the names, and Grimes does too ... Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward.
All former Buckeye cornerbacks and all eventual first-round NFL Draft picks, with Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade next in line to be harvested from the program’s de facto cornerback farm system.
Just like them, Grimes wants to shine as a college corner, be a high draft pick and make it in the NFL. It’s why he listed Ohio State – or DBU, as he and much of the country now call it – as being in his top three final schools two weeks ago. He was prompted for just one of his three top schools, and Ohio State was the one he chose to mention. On Wednesday, he doubled down and said the Buckeyes remain in that top three.
“(Ohio State being DBU) is huge because they know what it takes to put a corner in the league, and I think when people and coaches are looking in the draft, coaches think about Ohio State,” Grimes said. “Ohio State is known for putting DBs in the league so that’s what I’ve gotta think about. That’s why I’m playing football is to make it to the league.
“Ohio State stands high. I really enjoyed myself while I was there, and the coaches are amazing so Ohio State stands high.”
He visited Ohio State in June, and he’s been to several campuses down south – including Texas, Texas A&M, Clemson and Alabama – and he’s visited North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Penn State and Maryland.
Grimes hasn’t yet made an official visit anywhere. He’s being patient with his recruitment, saying he will take all five of his officials – most likely all of them with his father, Princess Anne assistant coach Deon Glover, by his side – before weighing his options and coming to a decision.
That includes Ohio State, where Grimes says he and his father have some things set up and a visit planned out. Even if they aren’t able to work out an in-game visit, though, they will “definitely get back up there.”
During all of these unofficials, he has been able to accomplish two important things. One is comparing and contrasting the facilities and the atmospheres of the different schools.
“There are a couple programs that are high up there, and there are a few programs that I just don’t see myself there,” Grimes said, giving a quick laugh and a “no” when asked if he could name any specific programs he didn’t like.
He says he “really enjoyed myself” at Ohio State and the city of Columbus, as he was able to tour the city a bit in the summer and found out, “The fans are crazy, and the people are very outgoing. They’re kind. That’s what I like.”
“Coach Washington was a really big plug for Ohio State. We’ve always had a good connection.”
More important than the environment are the hands he would be putting his development into: “The main thing I want – the main thing I go to colleges for – is to get to know the coaches; get the feel for the coaches and get the feel for the players as well.”
That’s where Ohio State again has a critical selling point.
The NFL might be enough of a shiny penny pull to get high-ranked prospects to Ohio State, but that alone probably isn’t enough to get the highest-ranked prospect into town. Plenty of other programs can get a top corner talent to the pros.
That’s why his long-standing relationship with Al Washington comes into play here.
Stop us if this sounds like a replay: Washington begins recruitment of a five-star 2021 player, takes the Ohio State job, continues said recruitment and makes a lasting impression.
It happened with Jack Sawyer, and it’s happening again with Grimes.
Washington began recruiting Grimes while still the linebackers coach at Michigan. He traveled down to Virginia Beach to meet Grimes in person, talked to Grimes’ high school coach and gave him the Wolverines offer. Grimes took a visit to Michigan in November, but after Washington took the Ohio State job, Grimes’ interest shifted further from the Wolverines to the Buckeyes.
Washington then gave Grimes the Ohio State offer in March.
“Coach Washington was a really big plug for Ohio State,” Grimes said. “We’ve always had a good connection.”
The other growing connection Grimes has is with Jeff Hafley, one that was established during Grimes’ visit in June, and it has gotten stronger this fall. He says both Washington and Hafley stack up “real, real high” against the other college coaches he’s spoken with.
“Me and Coach Hafley are getting there with our connection,” Grimes said. “I really love what he’s doing with his corners. Coach Hafley, he’s different. He treats his corners different. His style of teaching, I can see in my game how it can help me – how he works with them, how he practices with them, the tone he has with his corners, and the level of expectations he has for them.”
Grimes also has a connection with Buckeyes sophomore linebacker Teradja Mitchell, a fellow Virginia Beach native who hosted Grimes in June and has made his own push for Grimes to come to Columbus.
“He’s not gonna tell me where to go, but this is the main school he kept talking to me about – how they’re gonna build me into a crazy type of athlete and that this is the place you wanna come to if you wanna get pushed and put in hard work and stuff like that,” said Grimes, who would be the third No. 1-ranked cornerback to come to Ohio State, following Okudah and Ted Ginn Jr., who was originally recruited as a corner.
The DBU reputation and the strong connections with Ohio State’s coaches and Mitchell certainly seem to be appealing. But the most intriguing selling point – and this might be the final deciding factor if Grimes does decide he wants to become a Buckeye – is what will be a thin cornerback room by the time Grimes would get to campus.
Okudah will be a millionaire in April, Wade will follow suit either after this season or next, and Damon Arnette will be gone, leaving the Buckeyes with four corners from the 2019 roster leading the way, plus top-50 recruit Clark Phillips incoming, the strong potential of Ryan Watts III joining and the likelihood of Lejond Cavazos playing only corner.
Assuming Hafley stays in Columbus, though, Grimes would be a perfect fit for his secondary and could line up opposite Phillips or somebody else to give Ohio State an exciting cornerback future.
Grimes is a speedy 6-foot, 180-pound corner who uses his strength and length to excel in press-man coverage, showcases impressive instincts as a ball hawk, knows when to swivel his head around during one-on-one coverage battles up the sidelines and has the hands – he is also his team’s top wide receiver – to go up and snag interceptions.
“I think my biggest strength is press, but also – I was already really good at it – I’m really getting amazing at zone coverage and disguising from zone to man and (disguising) Cover 2 to Cover 3 and Cover 4,” Grimes said. “I think on the next level, I’d be pretty unpredictable against receivers and other coaches from other colleges.”
This season, opponents have not been throwing Grimes’ way, so his coaches have been using him at safety, which has helped sharpen other skills that will help him at the position he’ll play in college.
“I’m making a lot of my plays, a lot of tackles and breaks on the ball,” Grimes said. “At safety, I get a lot of calls, and I see the field and see the formations better. It’s gonna help me. It helps me a lot to be more vocal and as a leader – getting the plays into the linebackers and corners and stuff like that. Also, it makes me a better open-field tackler as well.”
One of the pillars of Hafley’s coaching philosophy is his desire for his defensive backs to be great tacklers. Grimes has already shown he’s a good tackler who excels in run defense, and he says he’s getting better.
If so, Grimes is on the right path to winning his trophy. He just needs to figure out where his next step will be.