Franchise’s all-time leading scorer will also become 18th member of Hall of Fame
(January 24, 2019)… The Rochester Knighthawks announced today that the organization will retire former forward John Grant Jr.’s No. 24 jersey on Saturday, Feb. 2. Grant’s jersey will be raised to the rafters prior to the game against the Georgia Swarm at 7:30 p.m.
“It is a tremendous honor to have my jersey retired by the Knighthawks,” he said. “I loved my time in Rochester. It was like a second home for me and my family. To be the first K-Hawk to have his jersey raised is extremely exciting, especially with all the incredible players who played for that storied franchise. I can’t thank (Owner) Curt Styres and the organization enough for the opportunity to come back and celebrate the retiring of the No. 24 jersey.”
It’s fitting that the man who rewrote the team’s record book becomes the first player in franchise history to have his number retired. In doing so, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer will also become the 18th member of the Knighthawks Hall of Fame.
“For 11 years, John was the centerpiece of the Knighthawks’ organization,” said Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres. “He was a model of class and played every game with passion and determination. He was a fierce competitor and always produced in the clutch. Congratulations on an amazing career.”
Grant spent 11 of his 18 years (2000-10) in Rochester after the Knighthawks made him the first overall pick in the 1999 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft. The Peterborough, Ontario, native was a lacrosse prodigy, as the son of lacrosse icon John Grant Sr. Even before ‘Junior’ stepped on the turf for his first NLL game, he had already achieved legendary status for his exploits with the hometown Lakers and the University of Delaware Blue Hens.
Longtime Knighthawks’ captain Regy Thorpe said it was evident from the first day that Grant was going to be a special player.
“He was a generational player. Players like that don’t come around that often, and he had that reputation (as a goal scorer) from the first practice,” said Thorpe, who played with Grant for 10 years. “His hands, size, and power made him so tough to defend. He certainly made everyone on the team better, especially our defense because we had to play against him every week in practice. He also made our goalies better because he was such a sniper. I am humbled and honored to have played with him for so many years.”
During the 2000 season, Grant began his future Hall of Fame career with a bang, leading Rochester in goals (37), assists (40) and points (77). For his exceptional play, he was voted the 2000 NLL Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie since 1991 to earn First Team All-Pro honors. He also helped the Knighthawks return to the NLL Finals. In the title game, Grant scored an incredible behind-the-back goal in the closing minute to tie the game against the Toronto Rock. He finished the contest with four goals and four assists to lead Rochester with 15 playoff points in two games.
To those who scouted him or played alongside him, it was no surprise that he had an immediate impact in his rookie campaign.
“It started when he was a kid and all the stories you heard about him,” said Knighthawks VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage. “What made him one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time was his passion for the game and his stick skills, and he hated to lose. He was one of the most creative players ever to play the game. He fine-tuned his skill set (when he got to the pros). He could shoot the ball so many different ways and be very accurate. More importantly, he could do it at any point in time. He was not only a great Knighthawk but one of the greatest players to ever play the game of lacrosse.”
“He was a magician with that stick. He did things that I don’t think anybody will ever be able to do,” said Mike Accursi, who played with Grant for three seasons in Rochester. “He was a naturally talented guy and a fierce competitor. There were games where he put us on his back, and we would come along for the ride. He was just one of those guys who hated to lose and constantly worked to improve himself. That’s why he is who he is.”
Grant’s inaugural campaign was a sign of things to come. Nine times he led the team in goals and points. In the other two seasons, he did not finish first on the team in both offensive categories due to injuries. With Grant in the lineup, Rochester advanced to the playoffs eight times and made three trips to the NLL Finals (2000, 2003 and 2007).
While wearing the Purple and Teal, Grant was a five-time First Team All-Pro (2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007) and a two-time Second Team All-Pro (2002, 2003). He was also a four-time team MVP and the 2007 league and Championship Game MVP. Despite the long list of accolades, Grant was more concerned with winning than any individual recognition. His drive and focus in practice and during games made everyone around him play at a higher level.
“I was fortunate enough to call Junior my teammate for basically my entire career,” said Chris Schiller, who was Grant’s teammate for nine years. “You are talking about one of the best players of all time. To watch what he did and to practice against him only made me a better defenseman. Our ‘D’ had to go against him every practice, so when we got to games, to be honest, no one was as skilled, as big and dominant as him.”
The pinnacle of Grant’s career was in 2007 when the perennial All-Pro brought Rochester its second NLL title. He was an offensive force that year, leading the league with 51 goals and 111 points. He also posted a then-franchise record 60 assists. That year, Grant became the first Knighthawk to lead the league in points and win the NLL MVP award.
He was the alternate captain of a team that set a league record by winning 17 straight games. After starting the season with a 2-2 record, the Knighthawks ended the regular season with 14 consecutive wins. Rochester then won both playoff games, which included a 13-11 win over the Arizona Sting, en route to the NLL Cup.
“The 2007 championship squad was one of the best teams I ever played on,” said Grant. “We started the season so poorly, and then we just forged together as a family and went on an incredible run together. What a cast of characters we had that year. I can’t say I have ever had more fun winning than with that group. When it counted, we put it all on the line for one another.”
One such comeback was in the 2007 East Division Finals against the rival Buffalo. After rallying from a three-goal, fourth-quarter deficit, Grant scored 26 seconds into overtime to give Rochester a 14-13 victory and a trip to the NLL Championship Game.
“That semifinal OT winner was the biggest and luckiest goal I ever scored in the NLL. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have shot it,” said Grant. “It squeaked in, and the rest is history. The celebration was epic, and the BCA was electric. There’s no doubt that the goal erased seven years of playoff futility for us. I have goosebumps every time I see it.”
Grant completed his stint in the Flower City as the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (433) and points (894). The highly-touted forward also posted 461 assists to finish second in that offensive category. The University of Delaware product also resides at the top of the list for postseason goals with 47 and is second in playoff points with 82.
“Whenever 24 was in the lineup, we always knew we had a chance to win,” said Grant’s former teammate Shawn Williams. “I will never forget all the special memories, especially all those fourth-quarter comebacks in the War Memorial led by Junior. It always started with that confident ‘we got this’ look from 24.”
In July of 2017, Grant officially retired from professional lacrosse, concluding his career as a two-time NLL MVP and nine-time All-Pro. He wrapped up his playing days with the Colorado Mammoth to finish with the second most goals (668) and points (1,446) in league history while placing fifth in assists (778).
Recently, Grant was named to the Knighthawks’ All-Time Team as the top vote-getter. Despite last wearing the Rochester sweater in 2010, he remains a fan favorite because of his contributions on and off the field. Grant did what few players have done; he moved to Rochester to become part of the rich-lacrosse community.
While he was winning awards and scoring titles early in his career, he was also working as the lead instructor at camps and clinics, and playing in men’s league games at Total Sports Experience. The forward also made time to visit lacrosse practices, hospitals and local schools, which earned him the team’s Community Service Award three times in his 11 years with the organization.
The friendships and memories he created in Rochester are what make the city an important part of his life
“Whenever I talk about Rochester, I talk about it fondly,” he said. “It was home for me and my family. My daughter was born there. I just wish I could get back there more often. It’s one of the greatest places I have lived. I loved every minute I was in Rochester.”