Meet 'man-child' Zion Grady, a 5-star sophomore with offers from Alabama, Auburn football

Jacob Shames
Montgomery Advertiser

TALLASSEE, Ala. — During games, when Zion Grady isn't wreaking havoc in opposing backfields, he's typically on the sideline, keeping to himself. Grady, who recently got baptized, is often praying or meditating.

When Grady was in elementary school, he and his aunt, Angel Massey, had a date. Every Friday, Massey would come to Grady's school for lunch. As she did, she noticed her nephew was totally comfortable eating lunch with her. So what if Grady's classmates were to tease him? They could think whatever they wanted.

"That let you know just how special of a person that he is," Massey said. "Even then, that showed leadership in my opinion."

Massey's a big fan of Tim Tebow. She views Grady as similar to the former Florida star quarterback — to her, they share the same leadership, devoutness, humility and love of family. And of course, football talent.

Grady, a sophomore edge rusher at Charles Henderson, is a five-star recruit who 247Sports ranks as the No. 6 prospect in the nation for the Class of 2025. Athletic, smart and every bit as powerful as his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame suggests, he has led the Trojans to a 10-1 record and a spot in the AHSAA Class 5A quarterfinals, their first since 2013.

"In one word, he's a man-child," said CHHS coach Quinn Hambrite. "He’s a kid that knows football. Student of the game. He works hard and he’s humble. He’s an all-around kid."

Grady knew how good he was when he had four sacks in the Trojans' spring game before his eighth-grade season. He's played varsity football since, and last season, as a freshman, he had 60 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks in just six games before hurting an Achilles tendon.

By this spring, Grady had recovered and was making waves on the recruiting trail. He got his first scholarship offer, from Alabama State, in April, followed by Alabama A&M in May. On June 8, he attended Auburn's offensive and defensive line camp and earned Underclassmen MVP, and was offered that same day.

"He was by far the best athlete there," Hambrite said. "He earned it. I think he was the only one that left that camp with an offer."

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Grady has picked up 10 offers since, including Alabama, Florida State and Penn State. Charles Henderson's campus has seen a who's who of coaches from the nation's blue bloods stop by. With Grady's performance this season, that momentum won't be slowing down anytime soon.

During the regular season, Grady racked up 81 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 15 sacks, with multiple TFLs in every game. The Trojans, who went just 2-8 last season, went 8-1 and won their region championship behind a defense, anchored by Grady, which allows only 16 points per game. In its first-round game, Grady played through an injury but had a game-sealing sack in a 20-16 win over Williamson.

Zion Grady poses with his grandfather, Robert Grady, and aunt, Angel Massey, after Charles Henderson's 34-7 win over Tallassee. Robert and Angel drove in from Atlanta to watch Zion play.

Grady thinks he's improved his pass rushing since his freshman season. Hambrite said Grady also has gotten bigger and stronger, praising his work ethic and his time spent in the weight room.

"He's got this gifted talent, and it's just now coming out and beginning to blossom," said his grandfather, Robert Grady. "You could see it earlier, but now it's coming out more. ... He's getting older now, more mature, learning the game more and learning his responsibilities."

While Grady continues to rise, he hasn't had a hard time keeping himself grounded and focused. It's in his nature, and his family.

"A high-character person, good on the football field but is very well respected in the community and on the field, that's rare," Massey said. "Sometimes you have one or the other."

Grady's father, Robert, died when he was 3. Massey calls Robert Zion's "real-life guardian angel." On Friday, Zion led his team to a 34-7 win over Tallassee to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. Friday's date: Nov. 11. Robert's birthday: Nov. 12.

"His legacy is now living through Zion," Massey said.

Jacob Shames can be reached by email at jshames@gannett.com, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.