Auburn's J.B. Grimes didn't let cancer surgery slow him this season
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― J.B. Grimes' offensive linemen need only to look at their coach for inspiration this football season.
The Auburn assistant coach had surgery to remove both a cancerous spot on his tongue and his lymph nodes on a Wednesday, and was on the field the following Monday for the start of football practice in August. Grimes was named this Wednesday this week's national nominee for the Courage Award by the Football Writers Association of America. The winner will be announced after the season.
Auburn's linemen know how they'd cast their vote.
"That's one tough dude," said lineman Braden Smith in recommending Grimes for the award. "Having surgery, then going back out to practice with a bunch of staples in your neck ― that had to be incredible pain, but he made us feel like it would hurt him more to be away from us."
Coach Gus Malzahn summed it up this way: "J.B. is probably the toughest coach in college football."
Grimes said doctors told him he was cancer free. Lineman Alex Kozan said Grimes put aside his surgery for the team.
"A lot of coaches would have hung it up for a week or two ― or maybe the season ― but he put us first. He always puts us first," Kozan said.
Lineman Shon Coleman, a leukemia survivor, won the award last season. This season, he wanted to know if his coach was eligible.
Coleman was one of the driving forces to nominate Grimes.
"That's a very tough guy with some big energy," Coleman said. "Nothing can stop him from being a part of our team and moving us forward. He believes in us that much. If one of us gets hurt, we're going to look over and see what he went through, and he's been through a lot. That respect for him has brought us closer. We want to play great to show him what he has done for us means."
"His example is powerful," said lineman Jordan Diamond.
Grimes was told not to raise his voice during the early stages of fall practice. He followed that command for a few minutes. Soon, he was back barking instructions, teaching his players the finer points of the game.
"He coaches us like he didn't have anything more important in the world," said center Xavier Dampeer. "I don't know how he does it with the pain he had to fight. He inspires me ― if my coach can come back day after day and give it his best, then I can push through drills or cramping or pretty much anything that comes my way."
Lineman Devonte Danzey said Grimes' quick return from surgery "might be one of the most courageous things I've ever seen in my life. It gives us something to fight for -- to show him that we really appreciate him every day.”
"Some days," said Mike Horton, "maybe we don't want to be practicing or working, but you wouldn't dare do anything less than your best. We work hard because we work hard for him. He's a coach you want to play for."
The Courage Award, which has been presented by the Football Writers Association of America since 2002, considers "courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship."
This season's winner will be honored at the Orange Bowl.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine