Jacob Grinstead used to be a small fish in a big pond.
As a freshman at West Forsyth High School in 2013, the shorter, lanky son of a pastor was buried deep enough in the depth chart that coaches looked at switching him to cornerback. He still learned lessons from eventual starting quarterback Hampton McConnell—now at Georgia Southern—and worked his way into the starting rotation of the junior varsity team. Grinstead was half way through the chronicle of becoming a quarterback at a big-time program.
Then Grinstead had a change of heart, which lead to a change that's hard to believe.
Nowadays, the 5-foot-11 junior spends his fall week days winding through the roads near Coal Mountain to get to the Bennett Park football field, a single slab of sport turf nestled between some trees and surrounded for acres by farmland.
He and his teammates throw their bags down on benches under a canopy next to the field—there are no locker rooms, and throw on their gear. Jacob wears No. 15 in practice, idolizing his favorite former quarterback of his favorite team, Tim Tebow, but can't wear the same digits in real games because the team only has so many jerseys. Grinstead's helmet, an outdated model from the early 2000s, is covered in scuffs. A small, cartoony helmet decal—a “Warrior” – adorns the side of his lid.
Grinstead is now the leading signal caller for Horizon Christian Academy, a team of less than 30 players that competes outside of the Georgia High School Association as members of the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.
He's likened to his father, Chris Grinstead, who leads worship at Greater Heights Baptist Church. Jacob insisted on transferring to Horizon to put his faith before football. Now, his football experience is a reflection of that faith.
“The reason I came here is I had to make a decision between God and football. Some of the coaches told me you have a future in football, which was great, but I had to choose God. This change wasn't too much. I come from a small church, so it was just about getting back with those people,” Grinstead said.
Grinstead immediately walked into a starting role at Horizon, led by head coach Charles Wiggins. But, because the roster is so small, Grinstead has also had to learn to play defensive back—just as he was set to do at West. Now he considers himself a two-way athlete and leader of his football team, which is off to a 6-1 start this year.
“I always put others before myself. I try to take the guilt a lot of the time because confidence—team confidence—is so important. If you don't have confidence you can't play well, so I try to absorb as much as I can and lead,” Grinstead said.
Perhaps the most unique part of Grinstead's practice routine is the fact he, and the rest of his teammates, have to decipher between offensive and defensive players. Because of limited resources, the team wears the same color practice jerseys. That makes passing a unique challenge for Grinstead.
“It's really about looking for the face at that point,” he laughed. “Every now and then I might throw to the wrong jersey number in practice, but once we get into a real game it clears up.”
No kidding. So far this season Grinstead has completed 38 of 73 passes for 853 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last week he was invited to the first North Georgia Touchdown Club banquet of the season, where he was awarded the offensive player of the week award for a five-touchdown performance in Week 2.
Though it's not the wins, but the winning culture that Grinstead cherishes most.
“We're so close as a team because we're so small,” Grinstead said. “Everyone knows everything about each other. Sometimes the coaches will take us for pizza since we're such a small team. At a big school you can't do that because the bill would be pretty high. We're close. We have to be.”
Grinstead said his eyes are on a championship this season and next season, but he has one major thing on his senior-season to-do list.
“To get a No. 15 jersey for next year,” Grinstead said. “I've already talked to the coaches about it.”