Inglewoodâ€™s Grace grateful for second chance
BACK ON THE FIELD: James Grace sat out Inglewood's first six games after being declared ineligible by the CIF for seeking an extra year of eligibility. After his appeal was upheld last week, he will suit up for the team's last three games after appearing in their win against Hawthorne. -Nick Koza for Sentinel
Evan Barnes Sentinel Sports Editor
For James Grace, last week's game against Inglewood was one that he would remember for a while.
As the school celebrated their homecoming last week, Grace returned to his team after the CIF overturned their decision to declare him ineligible.
"I'm happy to be out here and get my chance to shine and possibly earn a scholarship," Grace said.
Grace was declared ineligible by the CIF in August after applying for a fifth year of eligibility. He had sought a hardship waiver for the past two months and on October 19; the CIF announced that they overturned their ruling.
"We're happy to have him back," Inglewood assistant head coach Daniel Thomas said, "He's a great kid and he's worked hard to get here."
That's why the Sentinels made sure to reward him. He started the game with a 57-yard kickoff return on a lateral and on the team's first play from scrimmage, he caught a 10-yard pass. Grace had a chance to score in the second quarter but the pass to him dropped out of bounds.
On defense, he had three tackles as Inglewood won easily over Hawthorne 56-0. It was a quiet night at his natural position of defensive back as the Cougars didn't pass but just being back on the field was the answers to his nightly prayers.
He and his family had requested an extra year because he suffers from a learning disability that helped him struggle with his grades. As a result, he would often divide his time between school and two learning centers to work on improving his study habits.
It was just the latest hurdle for Grace to overcome. He was homeless for a while after his father went to jail for weapon possession and was taken in by his uncle Joe Jones to keep him in California. His mother, Sheron Jones, currently stays in Texas.
The move benefited all parties, as Grace was able to stay at Inglewood while becoming a role model to his three younger cousins, including Chad Jones who plays on the Sentinels' freshman-sophomore squad.
Prior to this season, he had only played one year of varsity football prior to this year. He previously attended Carson and Los Angeles High Schools before arriving at Inglewood his junior year.
That didn't stop him being named the best defensive back at the B2G Elite Nike Camp this past summer, which drew attention from several Pac-10 schools including Oregon State and Arizona State
At 6-2, 200 lbs., he's intimidating presence for quarterbacks to throw to and when they do, he's quick to the ball. He's also an effective third option as a wide receiver behind junior Patrick Onwasor and sophomore Derrick Woods.
"He can create match up problems, especially if the defense focuses on Patrick and Derrick," Thomas said.
As for his learning disability, which makes him learn at a slower rate than most kids, he enrolled at several learning centers. Last spring, he was enrolled at the Citizen Learning Center fulltime as a student.
He's got his studies under control and he's developed a gift for writing, something that his coaches encouraged him to do.
It's a win-win situation made possible by the CIF, whose eligibility rules can be confusing. Last year, Dominguez forward Jordan Hamilton applied for an extra year of ineligibility with a similar situation to Grace and was denied despite several appeals.
Just this month, Dylan Lagarde transferred from Long Beach Poly to Los Alamitos and the sophomore is now starting for the Griffins at quarterback. It's rare when the CIF rules in favor of a student.
That's why no one was more shocked that the Sentinels when they found out Grace would not only play, but do so immediately. And it boosted a team that needed some good news after a three-game losing streak before their win over Hawthorne.
"We're back on target now and we have everybody to win," he said. "I'm just ready to work hard and be a playmaker."