Just a few months after being passed over in the Canadian Premier League draft, St. John's soccer player Jacob Grant is getting attention from a couple of clubs in the country's only fully professional league.
Grant, 21, spent time in training with the Halifax Wanderers Football Club this spring, while York United Football Club has invited him to train with them in Toronto.
He says it's encouraging to have professional teams show interest in him joining their squads but he still has to put in the work to secure a spot for himself on the field.
"It's a really good feeling. I think it's just an indicator of where my game is at right now and how well I'm playing," Grant said.
"I can always strive for more, though. This year was really good for me in terms of getting noticed and getting a couple teams after me, but I've gotta push for more."
The 2020 university season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Grant's 2019 season earned him a spot on the the U-Sports all-rookie team and earned him consideration for selection in February's CPL draft.
But when he wasn't among the 16 university soccer players chosen in the draft, Grant said, he used the snub as motivation and began looking for other opportunities to play.
He said he kept up his training, both in the gym and on the pitch, and made contact with trainers and the head coach in Halifax, who were aware of Grant and were interested in having him train with the club.
Jeremy Dow, a partner with DC International Sports Management in Cologne, Germany, helped connect Grant with Wanderers management.
While he was born and raised in Toronto, Dow's family is from central Newfoundland, and he played soccer and studied at Memorial University. He now works with the CPL to co-ordinate the recruitment of German players to play in the league.
Given the Newfoundland connection, Dow made a call on Grant's behalf to Stephen Hart, the Wanderers head coach and general manager and the former manager of the Canadian men's national soccer team. He said Hart was familiar with Grant and was interested in having him in training with the Wanderers.
"He knew about Jacob and he immediately, without a pause, he turned on a dime and said, 'Yes, please, can we do this?'" Dow said.
I felt like I was fitting in perfectly. - Jacob Grant
But just as Grant was beginning his training with the Wanderers, a COVID-19 outbreak struck Nova Scotia, cutting what was supposed to be three weeks of training down to just one.
"But for the week I was there, I was keeping up with the play, I felt like I was fitting in perfectly," said Grant.
"It's just unfortunate that COVID blew up, so I had to go home.… Although, I did feel like I did make an impact, so that gives me a bit of hope."
Dow also said Grant had a strong showing in Halifax, with the team's coaching staff interested to see more of his play.
"One of his, maybe his best quality, is his athleticism. [He's] an athlete, and that's the key facet; you can't teach speed, those types of things. Athleticism is genetic and then you build it, work on it, which he does, works very hard," said Dow.
Grant said he now has invitations to resume training with the Wanderers or to begin training with York United. If he did take to the pitch in a game this season, he would be the first player from Newfoundland and Labrador to make it to the CPL.
But whatever his future holds, Grant is back home in St. John's for now, playing with Holy Cross and preparing for the upcoming season with MUN's Sea-Hawks, a year he said will be "huge" for him.
'No question' about Grant's ability
Jake Stanford, Grant's coach with both the Sea-Hawks and with Holy Cross, agrees. With this interest from professional Canadian teams and
He says the young striker will now be a focal point for other teams.
"Every university team that we're going to play this year … game plans will be centred around trying to stop him as a player. Now he's going to have to deal with that added pressure, and he can handle that," Stanford said.
"I'm confident that he's going to have a really good year. He's playing outstanding soccer this summer for our Holy Cross team."
The coach said Grant has matured since being overlooked in the draft and has all the tools to succeed with a professional club in the future.
"He has all the tools, physical stature, technical ability, and now maturity too," said Stanford.
"There's no question on Jacob's technical ability as a forward, as a player."
Stanford said Grant was "very well received" by the Wanderers' coaching staff during his short time in training, but if he doesn't sign a player contract with a club this year, the coach says a strong season with MUN will help him in the 2022 CPL draft.
With training camp set to start Aug. 23, Stanford said MUN's season is "full steam ahead" after a year lost because of the pandemic, and he said it will be one that continues to make Jacob Grant the focus of CPL scouts.