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Zach Grant -- 2021 FootballScoop Player Personnel Director of the Year

The Notre Dame alum helped turn around Western Kentucky, key in landing stars Bailey Zappe, Jerreth Stearns

Maurice Crum remembers, almost as if Zach Grant was a Mike linebacker recognizing a developing play virtually concurrent with the snap.

Grant, like Crum, a Notre Dame graduate, had a clear vision for Western Kentucky football, its need for a dramatic roster overhaul and a path toward a berth in the Conference-USA title berth.

First hired atop the Hilltoppers’ player personnel department as the nation’s youngest director by then-coach Mike Sanford, and retained a year later when Tyson Helton made the leap to WKU head coach from Tennessee offensive coordinator, Grant had a blueprint for the Toppers.

“He was like so excited just to look at all the pieces that we put together,” Maurice Crum, a former Notre Dame standout who rose to become WKU’s defensive coordinator before vaulting earlier this year into the co-coordinator role at Ole Miss, told FootballScoop. “He had a mindset of, ‘I don’t want us to just take anyone out of the Portal, we have to take the right things and the right people under Coach Helton’s guidance.

“And Zach would just be so excited every time we got a piece. Like he could see it coming together before everyone else could, and then once it got together and got going, it was special. Obviously, he was like everyone early on the season, a little nervous, but he said, ‘Just trust me, it’s going to work.’ It kind of took off all the sudden.”

Zach Grant played a key role in rebuilding Western Kentucky's roster and delivering the foundation of the Toppers' record-setting 2021 season. 

Zach Grant played a key role in rebuilding Western Kentucky's roster and delivering the foundation of the Toppers' record-setting 2021 season. 

It worked to the tune of a C-USA East Division title, an near-upset of national Cinderella UTSA in the league’s title game and an absolute annihilation of rival Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl. All of which helped add up to Grant being named FootballScoop’s 2021 Player Personnel Director of the Year.

Indeed, what WKU did after the opening month of the 2021 college football season rivaled the production of most any team in any conference, Power 5 or Group of 5.

The Toppers, who had three losses by 11 total points and a double-digit road loss at a Michigan State program that experienced its own awakening in ’21, won the final seven games of their regular season as quarterback Bailey Zappe and wideout Jerreth Stearns – linchpins of Grant’s NCAA Transfer Portal prowess – emerged as arguably college football’s most potent duo. Zappe threw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns en route to a Senior Bowl selection while Stearns became a Biletnikoff Award finalist as he corralled 150 of Zappe’s passes for 1,902 yards and 17 scores.

Yet the on-the-field breakthrough that Helton & Co. helped guide WKU had its foundation poured in the roster reconstruction efforts that dated back 2018.

Though the Toppers’ signing class had drawn high marks from some recruiting services, the pieces didn’t fit the vision for the roster. With the 13th lowest recruiting budget among the 14 C-USA teams, WKU embraced the Portal in a holistic reshaping of the team’s composition.

As society and, in a trickle-down effect, college athletics dealt with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, which stymied all in-person recruiting efforts, Helton and Grant spearheaded college football’s version of an Do-It-Yourself College Roster Renovation show.

Ultimately, Helton both utilized Grant as one of his NCAA-eligible staffers to go out on the road recruiting and yet also had Grant in charge of WKU’s satellite camps in 2019 and 2021.

"He was my right-hand man,” Helton told FootballScoop of Grant, a Notre Dame graduate who served as understudy to the well-regarded Dave Peloquin during Grant’s days as a student worker for the Fighting Irish. “We and two others, we held our current guys, and finished out a strong class.

“There is no doubt Zach is deserving of this award. Our program wouldn't be where we are today without him. He was a key part of attracting the difference-makers for our program."

CoY-2021

That work at WKU continued that for which Grant already had shown a knack at Notre Dame; he helped the Irish land quarterback Ian Book, who evolved into the storied program’s all-time winningest signal-caller and a 2021 NFL Draft pick of the New Orleans Saints.

After arriving on the scene five years ago as college football’s youngest personnel director, Grant now has had a direct hand in helping 17 players become NFL Draft picks and more than 45 Hilltoppers earn All-CUSA distinction.

In part, that path led Grant to where he is today: not only FootballScoop’s Player Personnel Director of the Year but also the new player personnel director at fabled program Ohio State.

“Congratulations to Zach for being named 2021 Director of Player Personnel of the year,” said Ohio State’s Mark Pantoni, a pioneer in college football’s personnel landscape. “Zach was known to be one of the top up-and-comers in the profession while he was at WKU. He helped Coach Helton build a great roster during his time there, which is why we decided to hire him here.

“Zach is extremely organized and does a great job evaluating players while understanding how they fit our roster. He is hungry to learn and has been a great addition to our staff.”

Previous winners of the Player Personnel Director of the Year award are Tyler Siskey (Alabama, 2013), Mark Pantoni (Ohio State, 2014), Austin Thomas (LSU, 2015), Jody Wright (Alabama, 2016), Marshall Malchow (Georgia, 2017), Matt Lindsey (South Carolina, 2018), Annie Hanson and Drew Hill (Oklahoma, 2019) and Lee Willbanks (Indiana, 2020).


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