I first met Ashton Grant when he was about one year old. His grandparents, our dear friends Surrey and Hugh Hardcastle, had brought him over to our house. Although Ashton had barely learned to walk, he came rushing, almost running, into the room with a big smile, oozing an “I’m-here-now-the-party-can-begin” kind of charm.

Tina and I have followed Ashton’s progress ever since — from boisterous toddler to goofy kid to gangly teenager to confident young man. He’s retained his charm while pursuing his deep passion for football, first as a player and now on the coaching staff for the Cleveland Browns.

Ashton played football at Manchester High School in Connecticut, starting as a receiver and defensive back in his junior and senior years. Although he was a fine player, he decided to attend East Coast Prep in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a one-semester postgraduate program designed for football players hoping to develop their football skills and academic potential in order to impress college coaches.

Bob Chesney, then the head coach at Assumption College, saw Ashton play a game between East Coast Prep and Bridgeton Academy on Assumption’s field. “I could see right away that Ashton had great catch production metrics and phenomenal hands. And he was fearless.”

Chesney invited Ashton for an overnight visit to Assumption, and he was greatly impressed by Ashton’s character as a young man and, it should be noted, by Ashton’s mother, Jesse. “Seemed like Coach Chesney was on the phone almost every day with my Mom,” recalls Ashton about Chesney’s tireless effort to lure him to Assumption.

We had heard stories about Ashton’s development as a player from Surrey and Hugh, so we decided to join them to see Ashton’s first game at Assumption. And what a game it was! He started at wide receiver, caught seven passes and scored a touchdown.

That was just the beginning. He went on to become Assumption’s all-time leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (3,204 and 36); he was named the NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year (2016); and he helped lead the team to the program’s highest ranking of 8th in the nation in Division II.

Ashton’s huge success at Assumption earned him tryouts for several professional teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders, but he fell just short of landing a spot. Interestingly, two of his Assumption teammates did earn NFL berths: Deonte Harris is a kick returner and wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints and Zach Triner is a football long-snapper for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bob Chesney left Assumption to take over the head coaching reigns at the College of the Holy Cross, and he invited Ashton to join his coaching staff to work on special teams and offensive quality control. In addition to assuming a full range of coaching and administrative duties, Ashton even spent some time babysitting for the Chesneys.

In June 2020 Ashton got a big break when he won the one-month Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship for the Cleveland Browns. He completed that fellowship online because of the pandemic, and did everything from sit in on team and staff meetings led by Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and Offensive Assistant Ryan Cordell to discussing organizational skills and football operation tactics with Chief of Staff, Callie Brownson.

Ashton’s success on that Fellowship led to his appointment as a Bill Willis Coaching Fellow last July. He spent a few weeks with the organization remotely and then moved out to Cleveland in August. His typical work days, which lasted 12-14 hours, included everything from preparing daily meetings and watching films to helping assistant coaches be more efficient with their time. The Browns experienced great success during the 2020-21 season, compiling a fine 11-5 record and going toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs before being eliminated from the playoffs.

Ashton’s hard work with the Browns this past season paid off, and he’s been invited to rejoin the team for the coming season.

I talked with Coach Bob Chesney about Ashton the person as well as Ashton the player. “Ashton is phenomenally capable in doing whatever he sets his mind to do. He never seems to have a bad day, and if he does he never lets you know it. He told me that he wants every one of his interactions with another person to be a positive experience for that person.” Hmmm…..how many of us think in those terms? How many of us thought like that when we were Ashton’s age (25 years old)?

Tina and I look forward to joining our friends Hugh and Surrey and their daughter Jesse in attending one of the Brown’s games next season. And during the game we’ll be keeping our eyes on the sidelines to spot Ashton Grant, in his element, fulfilling his passion, doing what he was meant to do for the game he’s always loved.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” articles. [email protected]

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