DAVIE—One of the great things about moms is they love everything you do. Pretty much anything you do is met with unconditional approval and a hug.
Jakeem Grant’s mom isn’t that kind of mom. She’s harder on him than any of the Dolphins’ coaches.
To understand Grant and how he made to the NFL despite being 5-foot-7 with cleats on, you have to hear him explain what it was like growing up with Sylvia Whittaker as his mother.
Mother and father, actually, as Grant puts it. Whittaker had to fill both roles for him, and her style was bad cop, bad cop. He told a story in training camp that illustrated how she pushes him. When he was returning kickoffs at age 8, she would sprint down the sideline parallel with him and snap at him if he couldn’t outrun her.
“If I beat you to the end zone, you’re not running fast enough,” she’d say.
“I definitely benefited from it, though,” Grant said. “It worked on me, but I hated it. She didn’t want nothing but great things from me.
“I remember one Pee Wee game, we lost the game and I did one thing bad, and she made me run laps around the field. All my friends was like, ‘Come on, man, we’re going to get pizza.’ I said, ‘After these laps, I’ll go with y’all.’ She didn’t care. She just said, ‘Run laps.’”
It continued at Texas Tech, where he’d have a 100-yard receiving game and drop one pass. You can guess what his mom wanted to talk about afterward.
Perhaps that sounds extreme, but Grant swears he wouldn’t be standing here in the Dolphins’ locker room without Whittaker relentlessly driving him.
It would’ve been interesting to sit with her during Miami’s recent Monday Night Football win over New England, when Grant caught his first career touchdown pass on a 25-yard throw from Jay Cutler, but dropped what could’ve been a 55-yard score in the fourth quarter:
Your mom is notoriously hard on you. How badly did she rip into you about dropping that ball at the end?
“Oh yeah, she definitely crushed me on that one. She’s like, ‘Good game, but let’s talk about this dropped touchdown that you had.’ Ah, I just took my eye off it. That’s it. She’s always my biggest critic. When it comes to my mom, she doesn’t want me to drop one ball. It doesn’t matter what ball it is or if she’s the only one who thinks I could catch it or if it’s badly thrown or something, she always thinks I should catch it. It doesn’t matter to her.”
So you’re on the phone with her right after the game. You’ve caught the first touchdown pass of your career. On Monday Night Football. Against New England. And how much time did she spend talking about that?
“Uh, zero. Zero time talking about that. She was basically like, ‘That’s what you’re supposed to do,’ so let’s talk about this dropped ball. She was just going in on me about why I dropped that ball. ‘Since you were in school, I’ve been telling you: We. Do. Not. Drop. Balls.’ I’m like, ‘We? You don’t catch any balls.’ She goes, ‘You know what I mean,’ and I’m like, ‘OK, gotcha. I got it. No more dropped balls.’”
Did she assign you extra work at practice? Does she have that power?
“Yeah. She said, ‘When you get back to practice, no dropped balls at practice. I need you to catch JUGS after practice, and if you don’t, I will get in contact with Coach (Adam) Gase.’ I’m like, ‘Really?’”
Does your mom really have access to Gase?
“Probably. She’ll find a way.”
That’s what someone’s mom would say if they were in middle school.
“Exactly. That’s what I told her: ‘I’m 25, mom. I’m 25.’ She didn’t care. That’s my mom.”
I can’t tell if you love that or hate it. It seems to be part of your success.
“Yep, definitely. She’s definitely pushed me to excel to the next level, and I appreciate that from her because I don’t want to drop balls either. I was eating myself up about dropping the ball, then I call her and I already knew what she’d say.”
Why did you call her? You should’ve known better. Maybe let her call you. And maybe let that go to voicemail.
“I always call her after the game. It’s like a routine. I kinda thought she’d forget about it because of the catch, but that was out the window and ‘Let’s talk about the dropped ball.’”
You sound like the next thing you’re going to tell me is that she’s grounded you from your Nintendo for the week.
“No, no, no. I’m not grounded. But she definitely hates it. If I drop a ball, it’s like nonstop. She’ll go, ‘So how are your hands?’ Man, my hands are good. What do you mean how are my hands? ‘Well, you dropped a ball, so I can’t tell.’”
Wow. Your mom lights you up over that? My mom would’ve said, ‘You did a good job trying so hard, honey,’ or something like that.
“Yeah. Not mine.”
No exaggerating at all on this: Is there a coach here who’s as hard on you as she is?
“My mom is definitely the worst, because she won’t let it go. If I have a great performance in the next game, then she’ll let it go. If not, she’s stuck on it.”
I’ve gotta ask Gase in the press conference now: Did Jakeem Grant’s mother call you about the drop?
“Man, he threatens it, too. He threatens me by saying, ‘If you’re not doing what I ask you, I will call your mom.’ Come on, Coach. We’ve gotta go there?”
You’re joking. Gase says that?
Why is everyone treating you like a child? Is it just because you’re short?
“It’s because that’s my mom.”
If you were 6-foot-5, no one would speak to you like this.
“Yeah, that’s probably what it is. That’s it. I’m short, so they think they can.”
Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook