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Arizona football: Wildcats receiver Samajie Grant opens up about upbringing and how it shaped him as a player and a person

Samajie Grant has had the odds stacked against him for years, which is why his success at Arizona should not be a surprise to anyone.

Ethan Miller

Last year, Samajie Grant made his way from California to Tucson, and left behind an enormous family.

Grant is now one of 15 siblings in his family. Growing up, the receiver was with his mom's part of the family, which included five kids.

Having that high headcount of brothers and sisters has helped contribute to his success in the game of football.

"As a kid, my brother was like a bully to me," Grant explained. "I'm talking about busting my lip, busting my nose. We used to fight. I used to tell my mom."

"But it all helped me in the long run. Cuz now, I go out here and I get hit on the blind side. It'll hurt me, but it won't affect me as it would have if my brother wasn't so hard on me. And even my sisters when I was little, they would beat me up and stuff, so that toughened me up as time went on."

As a freshman, that toughness showed itself in a receiving corps that struggled early. Grant emerged as one of B.J. Denker's favorite targets, and recorded his first career touchdown in the third game of the season against UTSA.

"Honestly, I come out, and there's just a connection," Grant said. "If we feel good, we'll be like 'look for me'. It's not really a comfort thing with (the receivers), it's all about getting open. You don't want to get comfortable with somebody who's not going to get open as a quarterback. You've got to be able to trust your receivers."

As a whole through those first four games last year, the passing game was struggling to get in sync. But it wasn't just in games, it was in practice too.

"Last year around this time, we probably as a whole receiving corps probably had about not even ten catches. I think I only had about two catches, and I did that on my first day of practice (this year)."

Some of the new-found success in practice this year can be attributed to the receivers, and some of it can be attributed to the group of quarterbacks..

"Our quarterbacks this year are loose," Grant explained. "I'm not saying B.J. wasn't loose, but B.J. was new to it. All of these guys we have now, we worked a lot over the summer. (The quarterbacks) were all taking extra snaps after we left. That's really helping a lot now because they're understanding the coverages much better than B.J. did, so that's a good thing."

"As a receiving corps, we're not executing everything like we're supposed to as of right now," Grant continued. "Still haven't perfected everything obviously. It's all a progression."

The group of receivers at Arizona has changed significantly from last year, and a lot of talent has been added to the roster to help whoever does play quarterback. Austin Hill returns from injury, DaVonte' Neal and Cayleb Jones are eligible after transferring, and last year's freshman (Grant, Nate Phillips and Trey Griffey) have all improved significantly from last season.

But staying humble is all part of the game for Grant as he looks to find his role in this new passing game.

"I'm not going to say I'm better than anybody or say that they're better than me. I'm just trying to get myself better. That's my goal for this year. Even if I don't start, I just want to be better than I was last year."

So what is he trying to improve upon right now to make himself the best player he can be?

"The biggest room for improvement for me is the top of my routes. The legs are not fully there, I'm breaking down. My legs are giving out on me. And I need to be able to just one step and get out. I'm giving the DBs time to catch up to me just by all the choppy steps at the end of my route."

"I also gotta strengthen my hands. Be able to catch anything, even if somebody's on me."

While strengthening his hands, he's been strengthening his body (up five pounds from last year), and he's also trying to strengthen himself emotionally. His family is struggling back home, and that hurts him while he's in Tucson not able to do anything about it.

"My family isn't doing so well, so my girlfriend is the one that really helps me out. She comes out here like once every month to make sure I'm alright, doing good. This week, she's going to come out here and bring my little sister. I haven't seen her in like half a year. So that's really helping me out right now."

Staying humble and staying tough. That's what got Samajie Grant through his youth. That's what got him to Arizona. And that's what will take his game to the next level this year in a new-look Wildcats offense.