Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's soccer player pushing to play in Canadian Premier League

Jacob Grant isn’t going to let being passed over in this year’s Canadian Premier League draft deter him from playing professional soccer.

Jacob Grant says CPL teams may have ‘missed out’ by not drafting him

Jacob Grant says not being selected in this year's Canadian Premier League draft is only more motivation to work hard for next year. (MUN Athletics/Submitted)

Jacob Grant isn't going to let being passed over in this year's Canadian Premier League draft deter him from playing professional soccer.

If anything, it's encouraged him.

"It's more motivation just to work harder, do more than I've actually done, so next year, maybe, hopefully I don't get [passed] by and actually get picked up by a team," he said.

"Now, this is just my opinion, but they may have missed out. There were a few picks that were a surprise."

The 20-year-old from St. John's wasn't among the 16 university soccer players selected in last weekend's draft, but his 2019 season does put him among some of the best young players in Canada.

Grant scored five goals in 11 matches with the Memorial University Sea-Hawks in 2019 on his way to being named to the U-Sports all-rookie team.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 university soccer season, but Grant's past play got him a spot on a CPL watch-list of the top 20 prospects heading into this year's draft.

Grant was named to the U-Sports all-rookie team in 2019. Two players from that team have already played in the CPL. (Ally Wragg/Submitted)

Now in its third season, the CPL is the top level of Canadian soccer and is the country's only fully professional league. While Grant admits it won't be easy to make the jump to the CPL, he said he's confident he can do it.

"I know, myself, that I can play in the league," he said.

"It's going to be really important for me to continue my individual training. I think that's what puts me ahead of other talent here and also in Canada," he said.

That individual training, Grant said, includes getting onto the soccer field five or six times a week as soon as the snow melts, in addition to practices with the Sea-Hawks and his club team at Holy Cross.

'Totally dedicated' player

Jake Stanford, who coaches Grant with both the Sea-Hawks and with Holy Cross, says it's that work ethic that sets him apart.

"As a player, he just loves the game of soccer. He's a player that is totally dedicated, works very hard, loves training," Stanford said.

"That attitude that he has and the hard-working nature that he has and the love of the game that he has [are things] that you need if you wanna get better. You can have all the skill in the world, but if you don't have that attitude and that dedication, I don't think you're ever going to do well."

Stanford said Grant also has the skills to go far. He said the young player's dribbling, accurate shot and defensive effort put him among the best players he's coached in his 30-year career.

"He certainly has a lot of ability as a player and that makes him, in my opinion, certainly, the top player that we have around here from his perspective as a 20-year-old," he said.

The coach said Grant turned down offers to play college soccer in the U.S. to join the Sea-Hawks, and even his consideration for the CPL shows that players in Newfoundland and Labrador can strive to play professionally.

"I think for a young player looking at a pathway and looking up to a player, I think he's the ideal role model for some of these young boys that are into the game," said Stanford.

Grant's coach says he's a role model for younger players and is proving that someone can catch the attention of professional teams while playing in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Ally Wragg/Submitted)

Grant said it's "pretty cool" to have younger players looking up to him and to be helping to draw some national attention to soccer in the province.

"Hopefully I can continue to make leaps and bounds in my career to be a bigger role model for these soccer players in Newfoundland," he said.

"The soccer community, honestly, it's huge here, but there's a bad stigma around Newfoundland soccer that people think just because we're from Newfoundland we're not the best, but we've proved other provinces wrong time and time again."

If, or when, he's drafted, Grant would be the first player from Newfoundland and Labrador to play in the Canadian Premier League, something that would only help to grow the sport in the province.

The pro teams will be looking at Jacob Grant in 2021.- Jake Stanford, coach

In the meantime, Grant is continuing the hard work, hoping to impress professional scouts with his play with the Sea-Hawks — if there is a soccer season in 2021 — to get drafted next year or secure a walk-on tryout with a team.

Stanford says he can make it to the CPL.

"I feel he's knocking on the door to get drafted into this league, and he's still young so he still has a few years yet to develop even more," he said.

"But [if] he can do as well as he can for his team and push MUN to another level … the pro teams will be looking at Jacob Grant in 2021 when he's playing with the university team."

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