Rice football linebacker Garrett Grammer isn’t the most well-known defender, but the former long snapper is this year’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
For the first two years of his collegiate career, the average Rice football fan didn’t know who Garrett Grammer was. Fans know the starting quarterback(s). They know the stars. The most devoted Owls could probably recite the depth chart two-deep on both sides of the ball. But you won’t find many jerseys bearing the number and surname of the team’s long snapper. Much less so, his backup. That’s where the journey of the 2019 Rice Football Special Team’s Player of the Year begins.
Supplanted by Campbell Riddle in 2018 at long snapper, Grammer found himself buried on a crowded depth chart. The coaching staff hadn’t even known Grammer could snap when he arrived on campus. Now the advantage that originally secured him playing time was gone — he’d been beaten out. Not one to mope or quit, he did the only thing he knew how to do. He worked.
Fast-forward to November 3, 2019.
Marshall led Rice 10-7 in the second quarter. The Owls’ offense had shown signs of life under freshman quarterback JoVoni Johnson, but the defense knew every drive mattered. Needing a spark, Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green tossed the ball to speedy wide receiver Willie Johnson on a reverse.
The trick caught some off guard. Grammer was ready. Now a linebacker, Grammer had risen through the ranks and become a trustworthy member of the front seven. Grammer, listed as the backup to starter Antonio Montero who led the team with 11 tackles that day, made the play.
In a flash, Grammer exploded into the backfield and brought down Johnson for a loss of eight yards. Not only did the trick play not work. It backfired spectacularly.
“He’s probably the most underappreciated [line]backer we have,” said linebacker coach Scott Vestal. “If he goes in, I have no worries. It’s truly the same. The standard’s the same.”
That standard has been elevated significantly thanks to the shrewd defensive prowess of Grammer who has proven to have much more of a knack for the making plays than snuffing out a single reverse. A week prior to his moment against Marshall, Grammer laid waste to a fake punt attempt by UTSA.
Two big plays in two weeks haven’t just turned the heads of the coaching staff. Grammer’s peers are keeping tabs as well. “Garrett Grammer is a guy that I know can play,” said linebacker Blaze Alldredge. “And when you watch on film, that play that he made [against UTSA], it’s almost like he had a psychic premonition that it was coming because everybody else is running the other way and this guy is triggering downhill ready to make a play.”
Whether it’s a premonition, good luck or a combination of all of the above, Grammer chalks it up to him just doing his job. In his eyes, he was just doing what he was supposed to do on both of those big plays. Find the ball carrier and bring him down.
“I just happened to the person that made the play,” he said, almost nonchalantly recalling the blocked punt. Although he did let on there was a slew of thoughts firing off in his head as he worked. “That played didn’t last very long, right? But there’s so much stuff going through my mind at that time,” things like “Man, if I miss this tackle.” Fortunately for Grammer and for the Owls, he didn’t.
In some ways, those two moments represent the apex of Grammer’s entire Rice football career. The unassuming, lunchpail tackler had his moment in the spotlight, enjoyed it, and went back to work. But his story won’t end there, regardless of whether or not anyone else tries to outsmart the Owls’ trick play sleuth.
Grammer’s primary path onto the field, special teams, will remain his focal point moving forward. With his way to a starting linebacker job blocked by Montero (83 tackles this season) and Alldredge (second nationally in tackles for a loss with 22), Grammer’s contributions will be geared a bit more toward the “behind the scenes”-type work.
Spotlight or not, if anyone knows where No. 46 is at all times, its Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren. “He’s a guy that we rely on for a lot of things on our team. He is the special teams ace on our team. And we trust him with everything,” he said. That, in itself, would have been high praise, then Bloomgren continued, “I remember we had like one every year on our team with the [New York] Jets. At one time it was Larry Izzo, former Rice Owl.”
Izzo, whose single-season school-record 17 tackles for a loss was surpassed by Alldredge this season, had a lengthy NFL career. He made three Pro Bowls as a special teams ace and took home three Super Bowl rings. There could not be a higher compliment paid to a special teamer at Rice than simply to be mentioned in the same breath as the Owls’ legend.
Humble excellence. That’s pretty much Garrett Grammer in a nutshell. And that’s why this season, despite the string of defeats, has been so rewarding for many on this team. His efforts are the backbone of a team in the progress of pulling itself up by the bootstraps, of a collection of players working their butts off to earn a win, somehow, someway.
“When [Grammer] made that play in the UTSA game on the reverse on the fake punt our sideline couldn’t have erupted anymore,” Bloomgren recalled, “And part of it was because the result of the play, but part of it was because it was Garrett and our guys just love him and they love the way he works.”
For now, that work will be starting on every special teams unit the Owls employ. No matter the situation, the staff and his teammate know they can trust Grammer implicitly. Not only will he make the right play, but he’ll commit every ounce of effort to each moment. That strain, that willingness to commit to the little things in hope of fulfilling his commission to do his “one-eleventh” as Rice players are wont to say, could set up another bigger moment. Like the thwarted reverse against Marshall. Or that blown-up punt against UTSA.
Fellow linebacker Antonio Montero echoed that sentiment. “[It was] probably the most joyous I’ve been this season, seeing [Grammer block the punt], because I know how hard Garrett works, how good of a play that was,” he said, smiling.” Coach Vestal said that he was up in the box jumping up and down going crazy because we know how much it means to [Grammer] and how much it means to the linebacker corps.”
“I kinda was just the guy in the right spot at the right time,” Grammer chuckled with a modest grin.
Grammer made his first career start this season against North Texas. He finished the year with 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss, none bigger than his fourth down punt stop. Rice football hopes he’ll keep his penchant for consistency going into 2020. It might just result in the one play that matters, leading to the one result both Grammer and his teammates most desire: victory.