I first met Bernard Grant in the spring of 1970.
He was an eighth-grade student at R.L. Norris, and I was in the seventh grade at Laura Jones. We met at Coach Calvin Sampson’s spring practice to prepare for the next football season for the Rams, which would be the junior high school team under McDuffie County’s desegregation plan.
When I arrived at the first summer practice in August, I remember getting out of our car and Bernard slowing down and walking into the gym with me. Funny the things you remember about people. Bernard went on to star as a halfback on our junior high team that finished 9-1 that year, wearing number 00.
As a sophomore at Thomson High School the next year, Bernard was one of only a handful to make the varsity football team. He started at free safety and also played split end, but would move back to halfback his junior and senior seasons.
What a backfield that would turn out to be with the one-two punch of Bernard and Eddie Lee Ivery. However, Bernard wasn’t content with just being a football star. He also lettered three years each in basketball, baseball and track. As a senior, he finished third at the state meet in the 100-yard dash at the Georgia Olympics. In his spare time, he was a member of the Thomson High Choraliers where he and I were once part of the Literary Boys Quartet.
Despite his blinding speed, few colleges expressed serious interest because Bernard was only 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed only 150 pounds. He turned down an offer from The Citadel because he didn’t want to attend a military school and another from Carson-Newman College because it was too far away. After writing to numerous SEC and ACC schools, South Carolina, at the time an independent, said they would allow Bernard to walk on. He arrived in Columbia, where Thomson alum Jay Lynn Hodgin was the star halfback, as one of 75 walk-ons vying for only two scholarships. Bernard was awarded a scholarship by Coach Paul Dietzel and lettered in 1976 and 1977 as a cornerback when the Gamecocks were coached by Jim Carlen. He started one game in 1976 against Notre Dame and in 1977 was a full-time starter opposite Rick Sanford, an All-American.
While at South Carolina, Bernard was teammates with Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and quarterback Ronne Bass, better known as the character Sunshine in the hit movie Remember the Titans.
After graduating with a degree in health and physical education, Bernard spent 28 years employed by the state of South Carolina in its Vocational Rehabilitation Department before retiring in 2009. Despite spending most of his “retirement” in Thomson, he continues to serve as assistant pastor of Second Union Baptist Church in Columbia and he and his wife, LaVeta, are owners of Wee Tots Learning Center in Thomson, a business founded by his late mother, Eva.
Additionally, Bernard has, for several years, been very active in leadership roles with the University of South Carolina’s Lettermen’s Association and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for which he served as a state board member.
He serves as athletic ambassador for the university and attends athletic functions and helps in being host to recruits.
Upon moving back to Thomson, Bernard was invited by Coach Luther Welsh to become chaplain for the football team. He quickly assumed other duties as a volunteer assistant coach for the JV team and remains on the staff of Coach Milan Turner.
Recently, Bernard has assumed a position as area representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in McDuffie, Warren, Lincoln and Wilkes counties. The versatility he demonstrated as a Bulldog halfback, point guard, catcher, and track star remain part of his life in many different roles today. He has blessed this community often with his Christian witness and service, and I feel fortunate to call him my friend.