Watch an NFL player every week for eight years and you think you know him. But let me assure you of something, Saints fans: Regardless of how much we think we know about defensive end Charles Grant, we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Sure, he’s got a kick-ass sack celebration dance. And yes, he signed a fat, $63 million contract a few years ago. It’s also true he’s been entangled in his fair share of controversy, from a criminal indictment to an NFL investigation involving the use of a banned substance.
That’s what we’ve seen on TV and what we’ve read in the papers.
We think we know, but we have no idea.
To understand Grant and his mission, you must first understand his roots.
He is a country boy, tried and true. Despite his success and worldwide connections, he still drops the “g” at the end of his words, he loves to fill up on collard greens, and he thinks there’s nothing better than spending time in the country with his mama.
Growing up in a town like Colquitt, Ga., will do that to you.
"It's not very big. We've got a Hardy's and one red light," said Grant of his hometown.
Life in Colquitt may be slow, but for Charles Grant, it wasn’t always easy. At age seven, he witnessed the shooting death of his four-year-old brother. It happened with his brother sitting right next to him on the edge of a bed. It was a random act of violence that could have steered him toward the dark side.
Instead, this tragic experience motivates Grant to pour his heart and soul into saving the souls of the small-town and inner-city kids he encounters through his S.A.C.K. Success Foundation.
"I've been blessed like a lot of other guys to do it," said Grant. It's all about giving back to your community and showing the kids there's more than one way of making it in life than drugs nd gang banging."
The often “hard knock life” of a Colquitt kid forced Grant to grow up fast. He witnessed things some kids should never see and in some cases, things he didn’t truly understand.
"I never met my real father a day in my life," Grant explained. "My mama was on drugs...I had to see men beating my mom up. So, I tell the kids, "God's not gonna put nothing on you that you can't really handle". There's so many excuses I could have used. That's why I tell kids today, there's no excuse."
"No excuses"—it’s a motto that motivates Charles on and off the football field. But not in the cliché, Nike commercial kind of way.
It’s more like, “I can do anything because I’ve survived everything.”
After all, this is the same kid who, despite very humble beginnings, told his mother in eighth grade he’d grow up to be a millionaire.
Now that he’s got his millions, he’s doing his part to help fellow dreamers get a piece of the pie.
"I'm trying to feed at least a thousand homeless people in Atlanta," said Grant. A lot of cats run around saying, 'I got this, I got that', but if you've got it, give it back sometimes."
The money for most of the events comes out of Charles’s own pockets. But this year, he’s hoping to add to his sponsor list with the help of big-name celebrities.
"I have great sponsors for that weekend in Atlanta," says Grant. "I want people to support this worldwide, whether its athletes or rappers. I'm trying to get Mary J. Blige to do the grand finale for it."
He’s also got big plans for his fundraising event going on this summer in New Orleans.
"This year, I'm hoping to team up with DJ Manny Fresh," Grant said. "Me and hom are going to do something around Essence Festival. Our goal is to build a playground for a community in New Orleans."
But first things first. He’s got to take care of business at home. Charles is hosting his sixth-annual "Kids Day Out" event on March 14 in Colquitt.
The event attracts more than a thousand people, all hoping to catch a glimpse or maybe sneak in a picture with their hometown hero. The event, co-hosted by Grant’s mother, will include giveaways, activities, and one-on-one time with Charles and other NFL players.
It’s being held in memory of Grant’s late brother, Reneldo.
For more on how you can help Grant’s foundation, go to the S.A.C.K. Success website.
In part two of my interview with Charles Grant, he says something guaranteed to win over even the most critical Saints' fan. (It literally left me speechless.) Plus, he answers his critics and reveals how he’s recharging his batteries this offseason.