Deon Grant is most known for becoming an All-American in 1999 and leading the NCAA in interceptions with nine. His standout game that year was a three-interception game against the Auburn Tigers, including one on the first play and running it back for a touchdown.
Even though Auburn had a losing record that year, it could count as a big game since it was an SEC match-up on ESPN. But we honestly don’t need it to prove Grant’s value. His big-game heroics date back to his breakout moment from the year before.
In 1998, Grant saved Tennessee football in its win against the Florida Gators with a one-handed interception late. Florida had dominated the Vols in total offense and was driving again with the game tied at 17 in the fourth. Grant’s interception was the Gators’ fifth turnover of the game and helped UT avoid a sixth straight loss in the series, also saving their national championship run.
That wasn’t his only big-game performance of the year, though. Grant also helped to block a field goal against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second half as the Vols were staging a comeback. He then came away with an interception in the SEC Championship game to set up the Vols’ first touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
And then, in the national championship game, he made the clinching play. The Florida State Seminoles got the ball back down by a touchdown thanks to a late Travis Henry fumble. But Grant made sure they wouldn’t make anything of it. He tipped a Marcus Outzen deep ball intended for Peter Warrick that was eventually intercepted by Steve Johnson to save the game.
The play wasn’t as big as Dwayne Goodrich’s pick-six, but it was the second biggest defensive play of the game. Combine that with all the other moments he came up big that year, and he’s definitely a big-game performer. On top of that, the next year, Grant came away with another interception against Florida on the road to set up what should have been a game-winning field goal. The offensive play-calling cost the Vols there, but it wasn’t Grant’s fault. Simply put, he was a big-game star.