By JOHN ZENORAP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Corey Grant has done the unthinkable in one of college football's most bitter rivalries twice.
He left Auburn's backyard to play for Alabama, then bolted the Crimson Tide to walk on with the Tigers. The tailback's second move finally paid off after three years on the sidelines at one school or the other when he rushed for 146 yards in the Tigers' opener with Washington State.
"At times, it got rough," Grant said. "I just kept pushing and kept pushing knowing that my time would come. It's finally here."
In the meantime, the two-time state 100-meter champion from neighboring Opelika put on 30 pounds to beef up for Southeastern Conference defenses.
Grant finally appears to have cultivated a role now that Gus Malzahn returned with his no-huddle offense and plenty of opportunities on sweeps and other runs for a speedy back. He's hoping for a nice encore Saturday night against Arkansas State.
The 5-foot-11, 201-pounder redshirted in 2010 at Alabama, which was loaded with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. Grant walked on at Auburn the next year seeking playing time and a better fit, then sat out the following season under NCAA transfer rules.
Last season in a pro-style offense, he only got nine carries.
Grant got the same number in his first game, splitting time with Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne, who got far more attention in the preseason. He finally showed he could play in the SEC.
"I think he was grateful for the opportunity," Opelika High School coach Brian Blackmon said. "I think it was kind of a proving thing, not just to everybody else but probably more so to himself that, I do have what it takes to be an SEC football player. I think that was a great moment for Corey."
Blackmon said he never heard Grant complain or say anything negative about his situation. He said Grant is often a topic among Opelika coaches. The consensus: "If that boy ever gets a shot, he's going to do something big, because we know how hard he works."
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he wasn't surprised by Grant's performance either.
"He's been real steady," Lashlee said. "We knew he could run from the spring until now. He's a tough kid. He did make some cuts that were impressive that maybe we didn't know he could do. His speed is definitely a weapon for him. As you were able to see on Saturday, he helps us have a potential one-play drive or a guy who can make those explosive plays and flip the field and help you get chunk yardage."
Grant, who said he has run a 4.29 40 at Auburn, was on the field early. He ran for 15 yards on a sweep on Auburn's second play from scrimmage and raced 75 yards for a touchdown on his third carry midway through the second quarter.
"That was the most unbelievably fast thing I've ever seen," Tigers tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "He hit the corner and I was like, 'I don't know what even happened.' I thought somebody had an angle but you don't have an angle on him. You can't ever have an angle on him. He performed unbelievably."
Then Grant's teammates, who knew how long he'd been waiting, swarmed him in celebration.
"You could see it on his face after he scored, 'Finally. This is what I've been waiting for,'" Uzomah said. "We're all very excited for him."
Grant was awarded a scholarship before last season.
It remains to be seen how the touches will be divvied up among the three tailbacks this season, but the backfield's not as crowded as the one he joined in Tuscaloosa out of Opelika High School.
"It was a tough decision," Grant said. "I loved coach Malzahn and his offense. After talking to coach (Nick) Saban and how they wanted to utilize me and trying to get away from home. Every student at my high school was like, I want to get away from home. So I did that. Then I realized that it really wasn't for me. Coming back here, I feel like I made the right choice."