Mississauga’s Granville Mayers might be the greatest athlete you’ve never heard of — until now

Except with Granville, most of those stories are as real as the hard lessons he learned about talent, hubris and reinventing himself.

Twenty-five years ago, the Star profiled Granville, detailing his achievements, highlighting his potential and future plans.

“There’s a group of people who thought I’d quit school, get into trouble and become a statistic,” he told reporter David Grossman. “That kind of talk made me want to work harder and prove them wrong.”

He already stood six-foot-one, weighed 205 rock-solid pounds, and ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. He finished the 1993 football season with 12 touchdowns in just five games. He torched top-ranked Meadowvale for 300 total yards and three touchdowns.

Over the years his exploits would morph into John Henryesque folk tales that, with a different protagonist, would defy credibility.

Granville dunking wearing jeans, Timberland boots and a goose-down parka? That happened.

The 4.1-second 40-yard dash? With Granville and a hand-held stopwatch, it’s possible.

Accounts of him clearing the long-jump pit at Etobicoke Centennial Stadium might be embellished, but he ran so fast and jumped so far we couldn’t guarantee it didn’t happen.

His favourite sport, however, was football, and our high school team depended on two plays.

Pitch right to Granville. Pitch left to Granville.

Our coach would shout it from the sidelines. Even opponents who knew it was coming couldn’t always stop it.

Sometimes I lined up beside him, mainly because my speed complemented his. But we were profoundly different classes of fast, like a souped-up Mini Cooper and a top-fuel dragster. Quantifying Granville’s speed was tricky, though, because he rarely raced at track meets.

Our old track coach, Marc Christie, said Granville had Donovan Bailey-level talent.

In 2013, Woodlands alum Dontae Richards-Kwok won world championship bronze with Canada’s 4×100-metre relay team. I coached him in high school track, where his 10.64-second 100 metres remains the school record. With a year of training, teenage Granville would have put the mark beyond even Dontae’s reach.

Or you could liken Granville to Andre De Grasse, a prodigy who entered meets with little specific training and still ran a 10.9-second 100 metres. De Grasse went on to Olympic medals, a national record and an $11.25-million contract with Puma.

What stopped Granville Mayers from similar success?

He’ll tell you.

It was Granville Mayers.

I ran into him outside the school one evening the summer before my senior year. He and some friends lounged on the steps of a portable, splitting a six-pack of beer.

Granville didn’t belong there. He should have been a sophomore at one of the U.S. colleges that filled his mailbox with recruiting letters. But he slacked on academics, missed a chance at a scholarship and spent another year in Mississauga. That day he said he was headed to prep school in Maine to play football and boost his grades, then move on to the NCAA.

Instead, he played a few games, fought with coaches, came home.

The next year I enrolled at Northwestern University and joined the football team as a walk-on, a benchwarmer on a club that won a Big Ten championship. My teammates included Darnell Autry, a 1995 Heisman Trophy finalist, and future NFL receiver D’Wayne Bates.

As a pure athlete Granville matched them, and every other star I saw that season. The difference was self-awareness.

Darnell and D’Wayne were superstars, but also worked to fill gaps in their skill sets. D’Wayne could run and jump and catch, but could read defences like a quarterback and block like a tight end. Darnell was a high school sprint champion, but he also blocked blitzing linebackers and gained tough yards up the middle. The whole team watched hours of video, steadily accruing football IQ.

Granville didn’t do that. He lingered in Mississauga, convinced speed alone would propel him to the NFL. Other pro hopefuls played college ball and honed skills Granville lacked the patience to learn.

Still, each flirtation with big-time football rekindled hope among folks who knew him that he would finally cash in on his talent.

In June 1997 he tried out for the Argos. They cut him.

Then he enrolled at Wilfrid Laurier University with an audacious plan: put up blockbuster numbers in year one, then jump to the NFL. By then he had already 40-yard-dashed his way across the radar of an agent, who would help him enter the 1998 draft.

Instead Granville played a few games, fought with coaches and came home. Again.

He joined the draft anyway, and that spring his name appeared in newspapers alongside stars such as Randy Moss and Charles Woodson. They’re hall of famers now. Granville went undrafted.

We talked periodically during those years. I suggested he drop weight and run track. So did several other friends. Bailey committed in his mid 20s and had a world record by 28.

But Granville was hooked on football, so he added muscle mass and kept hoping.

He ran a 4.29-second 40 when the CFL’s Ottawa Renegades auditioned him in 2002. Skeptical a 230-pound man could move that fast, coaches made him run again. Another 4.29.

But at 27 he couldn’t sprint past deficiencies. The Renegades didn’t want to teach fundamentals, so they sent Granville home.

Before today, searching Granville Mayers’ name in the Star’s archives returned results that trended downward from the optimism of that 1993 profile.

He next appears in 1997, fumbling during that failed Argos tryout.

Then he vanishes until November of 2006, and a brief story detailing fraud charges against him in connection with three phony health cards. Granville has always denied the allegations and eventually the charges were dropped, but he lost his job at the ministry of health.

By then he was 32, and we had all stopped hoping he’d blossom into a world-class athlete. I just wished he would grow up, but couldn’t stop thinking of the headlines he would have generated if his commitment to any sport matched his talent in all of them.

None of us knew the incident would set him up to break records a decade later.

Losing his 9-to-5 forced him to focus full-time on strength coaching, and he spent the following years researching ways to grow his business. He also learned coaching isn’t about shouting instructions but about nudging people to become better versions of themselves.

Still, he grappled with regrets over his own untapped potential.

In 2014, he took a powerlifting certification course, hoping to bolster his coaching skills. He met high-level lifters, and learned the poundages he routinely tossed around in workouts could win medals in competition.

From there, for the first time in his life as an athlete, he committed to mastering a sport. Even if it meant addressing his weaknesses. Even if it meant starting at age 41.

And when Granville’s natural aptitude merged with his sense of unfinished business, records fell quickly. He entered his first competition in December 2016. Eighteen months later, he held 13 national marks for drug-free lifters in his age group and weight class.

Previous versions of Granville loved quick wins and hated the discomfort that often precedes success, the rigorous self-examination and constant correcting of weaknesses.

But high-level powerlifting doesn’t just expose faults. It punishes them.

Lack hip joint mobility? You won’t squat deep enough to satisfy judges. Favour one lift at the expense of others? Well-rounded rivals will outclass you.

In June, Granville weighed in at 242 pounds and then squatted 520, bench-pressed 430 and deadlifted 617 for a total of 1,567 pounds — all world records for a drug-tested powerlifter in his age class. The next month he turned 44 and in August he set new records, lifting a total of 1,604 pounds at the AWPC world championships in Manchester, England.

Strangers often attribute his success to steroids, which aren’t taboo in elite powerlifting. In many competitions, the distinction between “amateur” and “professional” isn’t prize money but drug testing.

But Granville is simply an outlier whose world records reflect elite talent and a new mindset.

In high school he played to his strengths — his linear speed and vertical leap — but rarely addressed weaknesses, such as his lateral quickness or life choices.

Granville’s transformation into one of the world’s top drug-free masters powerlifters doesn’t just indicate physical strength. We’ve always known he was strong.

But he changed his legacy only when he acknowledged his shortcomings — and tackled them head-on.

Morgan Campbell is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MorganPCampbell

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