Sept. 17, 2005
By Tim Collins
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Every day the Holy Cross football family learns something new from senior offensive lineman Justin LaGrenade. Maybe it is because he is such a natural that he can tackle (or block) any new job placed in front of him. LaGrenade is the kind of player you want on your team everyday, and maybe even as a part of your company in the future.
Why? Well, LaGrenade will never tell you himself, but he is the type of man that makes the job work, whatever it may entail.
When LaGrenade was finishing up his high school playing days, he garnered much attention from Patriot League schools. It was a testament to a man who is a quality player and person. But, based on the feelings he and his mother, Ivy Coleman, had when they stepped foot on the Holy Cross campus, he knew it was the place for him. "It seemed like a real family thing at Holy Cross," said the quiet mannered LaGrenade.
Growing up near our nation's capital in Gaithersburg, Md., he was the product of a football-crazed area. "Everyone comes to games and major bragging rights are at stake for the eight or so local high schools." The Gaithersburg High School team had great success with LaGrenade as a force on offensive line. "I had the privilege to play on a team that went 13-0 and won the state championship. That was perhaps my most exciting athletic moment as we won the state title on a touchdown in the last 20 seconds of the game."
LaGrenade kept football closest to his heart but honed his footwork and quickness by becoming a member of the wrestling team. Until he broke his leg in the state tournament during his junior year, he had turned into a solid wrestler. Also, just to stay in shape and relax he threw shot put and discus for a three-time state champion track and field team. His natural abilities were apparent and many were able to catch a glimpse of the versatility he would soon show at the college ranks.
Having sparingly played some defensive line in high school, LaGrenade got an opportunity to do the same at the Division I-AA level. "I was very excited about the chance to play on the defensive line at Holy Cross because that is where I really enjoyed playing in high school, although I was better as an offensive lineman." Making his progression into a steady Patriot League defender, LaGrenade seemed to save his best for the big game as he notched four tackles against Harvard as a sophomore. Coming off a 2003 season in which he played in all 12 games, starting three and making 20 tackles, he was surely confident about his future as a college player. One man had other plans though. "Coach Pedone was telling me since my freshman year that I was going to play for him on the offensive line, but I always took it as a joke." This time, the joke was on opposing defenses as LaGrenade went back to his roots and began working out with the offense during the spring of 2004.
The position change is not one that can be made overnight, but over the spring and summer it seemed possible for LaGrenade to get the feel back. "Most of the techniques I had to learn were still in my mind from high school. I guess it is one of those things you don't forget." Also, if he was going to learn how to ride a bike again, Pedone was the right teacher. As a converted defense lineman to an honorable mention All-America blocker during his years at Boston University, Pedone was the perfect mentor for the transition. LaGrenade's selfless attitude did not hurt either. "I liked defense better but I just did it for the team," said LaGrenade, who also had to add weight to his frame that now protects backers at over 290 pounds. "Everyone who has played both positions has liked the defensive line better, but Justin put his team first," added Pedone. "He will leave an unselfish attitude with the program and his desire to win has rubbed off on the other guys."
Along with his team orientated attitude, the coaching staff loved LaGrenade's overall athletic ability, which Gaithersburg fans knew about a long time ago. His natural ability is what aided in a transition that he became more comfortable with every day. The strong lower body and run blocking skills he possessed would be perfect fit for the offensive line. "I felt like I could be a decent offensive lineman about half way through the season, when I became confident in my play and was able to actually run around and hit people and have fun." Picking up the position seamlessly, LaGrenade was a member of a relatively inexperienced offensive line that produced veteran-like results. Paving the way for Holy Cross to average 334.9 yards of total offense and 21.8 points per game during the 2004 season, the now proven member of the offensive unit is looking forward to continued success. "This year I think we will gel together and communicate even better to provide better blocking." The 2005 season has brought yet another change of position from guard to tackle, and LaGrenade hopes to continue to use his defensive knowledge and familiarity to gain an edge. "I can look at defensive lineman and see if they are going to slant or speed rush by the way they get in a stance and set their feet." Getting better every day is the key.
Maybe the success is all a reflection on the type of person that the Holy Cross football program brought onto this campus when they recruited LaGrenade. "He is a very funny kid, but is also reserved. For a guy his size you would expect him to be loud, but regardless, he is a very active member of our team," said Pedone. The soft-spoken LaGrenade gives a lot of credit to the strength of his family when it comes to his accomplishments thus far. "I am grateful to have a strong family to call on when things get hard." LaGrenade's father, Roland LaGrenade, ran track and boxed in high school, which contributed a lot to his son's interest in sports. Maternal influence was also irreplaceable for Justin. "My mother has always been there to support me in any activity that I showed interest in. She played a major role in my academic and athletic success. I can honestly say that she has done all that she could to raise me the right way, no matter what the circumstances were." Also, step father Sherman Coleman has shared a lot about what it takes to be a college student-athlete, as a former basketball player at the University of Detroit under coach Dick Vitale. And in terms of pure football, LaGrenade's older brother David was a big reason why he fell in love with the sport. "The day I saw him play football I decided that when I was old enough I would play football as well." Most will agree that he made the right choice as he will finish the fall season as two-year starter on a very productive offense.
Upon graduation LaGrenade, an economics major, hopes to get into financing or banking. Going back home is also a big part of his plans. "Eventually I hope to settle down in the Washington, D.C., area working in financing, and perhaps becoming a high school football coach." Before career plans take off, LaGrenade dreams of traveling around and seeing the world. But he also has other travel plans that stem from his faith. "I would like to travel with my mom, who is a minister, to spread the gospel."
From what we have seen in just four years on Mount St. James, he will be successful with anything he does. Give credit to his ability, give credit his great family, but be sure to first give credit to the man himself.
And when another new job opens up, make sure to take a look at resume No. 56.