PASADENA, Calif. — D.J. Grant’s performance on Saturday was something straight out of a Hollywood movie script.
The junior tight end caught seven passes for 77 yards and three touchdowns to lead Texas past UCLA 49-20 at the Rose Bowl, ending any doubts about his surgically repaired right leg.
Two years of intense rehab finally paid off for Grant, who missed the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons after tearing his ACL, PCL and hamstring.
Grant put the Longhorns on the board first with a 45-yard touchdown catch from sophomore quarterback Case McCoy. Grant lined up on the right side of the formation, dragged across the middle of the field and found himself wide open as McCoy stepped up in the pocket to deliver the pass.
“I didn’t expect to be that open,” Grant said. “I seen nothing but grass in front of me so I was excited, hoping I wouldn’t trip and fall before I got [to the end zone].”
Grant’s day, though, was far from over.
His three-touchdown performance was the first for a Longhorns tight end since Pat Fitzgerald scored three times against Notre Dame in 1995.
“D.J. showed up well tonight,” McCoy said. “He had a huge game and he found a way to get open. If a tight end can block and find a way to get open, he’s going to be a big player in our offense.”
He connected again with McCoy for a two-yard score to put Texas ahead, 28-7, with 21 seconds remaining in the first half. As was the case the first time, McCoy eluded several Bruins in the pocket before finding Grant.
Saturday wasn’t the only time Grant had seen a Texas quarterback named McCoy escape pressure like that.
“Case reminds me so much of his brother [Colt] when he’s back there moving around like that,” Grant said.
As if hauling in two touchdowns from McCoy wasn’t enough, Grant caught another score from Jaxon Shipley, McCoy’s best friend and roommate.
Shipley, a freshman wide receiver, lined up in the shotgun and took a direct snap before rolling right and finding Grant in the corner of the end zone for a five-yard score in the third quarter.
“Those two are like the closest friends I’ve seen in a while and for me to catch one from both of them is pretty good,” Grant said. “That has to be pretty crazy.”
Grant had struggled with the trick play in practice, but made up for it with seamless execution against the Bruins.
“All week I had been having trouble with the play,” Grant said. “I was leaving too early or leaving too late, not faking it enough. Obviously today I got it right.”
But Grant wasn’t the only tight end to make an impact for Texas against UCLA. In all, six tight ends played. They blocked well and helped the Longhorns rush for a season-high 284 yards.
“Those guys have done such a nice job in the run game, we haven’t gotten the ball to them a ton yet and today was their opportunity,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “They got their opportunity and they took advantage of it.”
Under the bright lights of the Rose Bowl and before a national television audience, Grant had a break-out performance in California on Saturday.
Who knows, maybe his inspiring return to the game that nearly ended his career will wind up in Hollywood one day.