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Fujitsu Frontiers running back Samajie Grant thrives on versatility

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Seeking a fourth straight X League championship, the Fujitsu Frontiers acquired an exceptional weapon in young American Samajie Grant this year.

The 24-year-old is listed as a running back and he described the position as “my love.” And in Fujitsu’s 31-13 win over the Elecom Kobe Finies in the playoff semifinals at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki on Saturday, Grant shined on the ground and amassed 171 yards rushing using his elusive steps, capitalizing on his ability to use lead blockers.

But his genuine value is seen in his Swiss Army knife-like versatility. Although he did not make a reception on Saturday, Grant lined up as a receiver, and even attempted a pass at the end of the game.

“I got kind of nervous, I choked up,” Grant said of his lone passing play of the day with a smile.

The Compton, California, native, who regarded himself as a quarterback in high school, added with a smile: “I was actually lighting it up. A lot of passing yards.”

At the University of Arizona, Grant was actually a wide receiver. The 175-cm player racked up 1,639 yards and 12 touchdowns as a receiver. But he also ran for 491 yards with six TDs as a running back in the final five games of his collegiate career. Going back to his high school days, he said he also played safety and cornerback while handling receiving and running back duties.

During the 2019 campaign, Grant led the X Leauge in rushing (681 yards) with three touchdowns in seven games. He also amassed 342 receiving yards and five TD receptions.

Simply put, Grant enjoys being a football player and is grateful to be on the gridiron.

“I just like football. If they would let me play line, I would go play line. I like to try to do everything,” Grant said. “It’s not bad to be good at multiple positions. So even if they told me, ‘Hey, we want to put you at receiver for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t mind doing that, because I’d still get to get on the field. So anywhere to stay on the field, that’s what I try to do.”

The Frontiers will face the Panasonic Impulse, who beat the Obic Seagulls in the final-four round on Saturday as well, in a Japan X Bowl rematch on Dec. 16 at Tokyo Dome. In 2015, Panasonic edged the Frontiers 24-21 in the title game before Fujitsu captured the next three consecutive championships.

This time, Grant could be one of the major difference-makers against the Impulse.

But Grant tries to not do too much. He acknowledges he has good players around him, and sharing the ball with them gives the Frontiers a better chance to win.

“Of course, I always want to try to make a difference,” he said. “But I feel today, our receivers, they came out and they were having fun. Clark (Teruaki Nakamura) ran great routes, everybody ran great routes. Yeah, I made a difference, but I gave them the credit today, definitely.”

Frontiers offensive coordinator Pierre Ingram said that the presence of the versatile Grant “makes it so much fun” and has provided his offense more variations.

Ingram said that as much as Grant can be a difference-maker, what’s important for the Frontiers is that he can draw attention from the defense.

“So it’s not just Samajie,” Ingram said. “I think his ability to get attention allows other guys to get open.”

Grant signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League two years ago but ended up not playing in a game due to an injury. Then he received the offer from Kobe. He has cherished his time playing football as well as things off from the gridiron in a country, which he once thought was “far.”

“Honestly, I’m in love with Japan,” Grant said. “I was telling my sister just last night. I was like ‘I want to win a championship.’ And she was like ‘Well, of course, you do.’ I’m like, ‘No. I really want to win because if I win a championship, I can stay in Japan longer. So if we lose, you go home earlier. I love Japan, everything about it, the people, I like getting on the train, I think that’s fun. I didn’t get on the train in years, I used to get on it in LA, but then it got too dangerous.”