With the season cut short due to the ongoing pandemic, Max Grand and the rest of the Ellsworth football team knew they’d have a limited amount of time to showcase their growth from a season ago. Then as the season started, Grand suffered a minor knee injury that forced him to miss the first three games. What the team, and Grand, weren’t aware of at the time however, was that they’d go undefeated and their star running back would rush for more than 1,000 yards in the final five games.

Grand, the 2020 Republican Eagle Football Player of the Year, was a key cog in the Panthers first ever undefeated season. In those three games he missed, Ellsworth were plus-43 in point differential. When he came back, the Panthers were plus-188. Sure he played two more games than not and the quality of opponents fluctuated, but it’s a simple method to show how much more potent he made the offense.

In back-to-back games against Somerset, he totaled 597 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. In the final three games of the year — two of them playoff contests — he totaled 750 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns.

In short, he was unstoppable.

“I just don't know if I’ve seen with my own two eyes speed like he has, he's a really special football player,” Ellsworth head football coach Rob Heller said. “I think if he would have had the opportunity to play those first three games, he’d have been up there statistically with some of the leaders in the state as far as his rushing statistics go.”

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There’s no ‘I’ in team

Take a moment to talk with Grand, and you’ll find out how much he loves the sport. He’s not in it for personal accolades, rather he takes pleasure in achieving goals with his teammates that would be impossible for an individual.

Does he enjoy breaking off 60-yard touchdown runs? Of course. But it’s not common to find a running back take the same amount of pride in his running ability as he does blocking for others.

“Running back, it's got to be kind of an unselfish position. It’s not just running the ball but also blocking and being there for your teammates as much as you can,” Grand said.

“He's a kid that supported his teammates,” Heller added. “He really battled through those three games he was at practice every day. You know, helping the younger guys understand the playbook — as a team captain, his teammates respect him.”

How Grand carries himself on the field today can be traced back through a couple different ways.

First, he talked about growing up and playing flag football every day during elementary school recess. His love for the sport started there as he would head outside with classmates to play on a field he said was “full of burrs and not very pleasant to play on.” In middle school, the intensity ratcheted up as he began to travel to other schools for games.

“We had a lot of the same kids that I played with in elementary school who I had really known well,” Grand said. “As I've gotten older through high school, I've really wanted to do the best I can to help the team win games. And if that means getting up early in the mornings in the summer and working out, and holding captain's practices and all that kind of stuff, I’ll do it.”

The second way he traces his growth as a player is by watching others. Specifically, he pointed out watching film of NFL running backs Jonathan Taylor and Adrian Peterson.

“I've been watching him (Taylor) since he was basically in high school, and I just love his running style. I mean he's not afraid to run into anybody,” Grand said. “He's got a lot of quick bursts. I just kind of try to show that in my running as well.”

Looking ahead, Grand hopes Ellsworth can compete for a state title next fall after not being able to this year. After that, he wants to play college ball but where that is, is up in the air as he continues to go through the recruiting process.

If he puts in another season like the one he just had, there’s little doubt that he’ll find himself on a college football field in 2022.