The Detroit News is counting down the top 15 players on its list of Blue Chip football recruits. Today: No. 12 Alex Grace of Saginaw Swan Valley.
Alex Grace was rewriting the state record book while running wild during his high school career at Saginaw Swan Valley.
Now Grace will try to haul down running backs as a linebacker for Western Michigan.
Grace set the state record for rushing yards in a single season his junior year, using his sub-4.4 speed to run for 2,952 yards in 12 games, helping his team to a spot in the Division 4 regional final, losing to Lansing Sexton.
What could Grace do for an encore? He rushed for 2,426 yards (10.1 yards per carry) and scored 36 TD in 11 games, setting another state record with eight consecutive games of more than 200 yards rushing before the streak ended in a district final loss to eventual state runnerup Sexton. He was limited to a mere 188 in that 41-20 setback.
Grace finished his career with 7,541 yards, third-most in state history, and 99 rushing TD.
"Everyone dreams of making it to the state final at Ford Field; unfortunately we didn't get that good ending," said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Grace, who had 32 tackles and five sacks from his linebacker spot this past season. "Coming into the season I had already committed to Western so I wouldn't be stressed out about the recruiting process. I just wanted to have fun with my friends and try to have the best season we could.
"I wanted to get close to the previous season (for rushing yards), but more importantly have fun and win. I just kept playing hard, just like my teammates, and the next thing you know I had eight straight games of rushing for more than 200 yards. I didn't even know it was a record."
Grace said the highlight of his senior year was a 14-7 win over rival Freeland.
"The whole team played really well," Grace said. "It was my favorite game of the year, beating our biggest rival."
Grace rushed for 261 yards on 34 carries and scored both of Swan Valley's TDs. On defense, Swan Valley forced a fumble at its 2 to stop one drive, then had an interception late in the game to hold on for the victory to push its record to 6-0 to secure a playoff spot.
Grace is looking forward to playing for P.J. Fleck, the youngest head coach in the nation, at WMU. The Broncos went from 1-11 in 2013 to eight wins while playing for a share of the MAC West title in the regular-season finale, where they ended up losing to eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois. They lost to Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
"I committed during the summer, last June when I went to Junior Day (camp)," said Grace. "Coach Fleck had offered me a month earlier. I was doing drills during Junior Day and he was following me around. After it was over, he said, 'Come to my office.' We talked and that's when I committed. I love his attitude toward players. I love his personality, his energy and how he brings the team enthusiasm. I love the school too."
Grace, who has a 3.4 grade-point average, plans to major in nursing. He could be looking in on a few of his opponents after putting hits on them from his linebacker position.
"They recruited me as an athlete, but I'll be playing linebacker," Grace said. "It's going to be cool to be on the defensive side of the ball permanently. I love playing physical -- that's the way I ran and now I'll be able to stick my nose in there and make some hits. I'm looking forward to it."
BLUE CHIP COUNTDOWN
No. 12 Alex Grace, Saginaw Swan Valley (Western Michigan)
No. 13 John Keenoy, East Kentwood (Western Michigan)
No. 14 Cole Chewins, Clarkston (Miami of Ohio)
No. 15 Mike Danna, Warren De La Salle (Central Michigan)