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Baseball Career Ended, So Granzow Volunteered


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Well, listen to a story 'bout a man named Judd. . . .

He struck it rich, in a manner of speaking, near the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, gaining a foothold in big-time college football.

Drawl ball. The school of hard Knoxville. Tennessee, that is.

Judd Granzow, laid-back California kid and former fourth-round draft pick of the Dodgers, fits right in with the Volunteers, who are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and BCS polls.

"He's done a really great job for us and he has a tremendously bright future," Coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I like knowing he'll be back here for two more years."

Fulmer also likes knowing Granzow is contributing right away despite having played only one previous season of 11-man football.

He likes knowing the sophomore is mature despite his inexperience.

Granzow, 22, played two seasons of minor league baseball after high school, delaying the start of his college football career.

And Fulmer likes knowing that at 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, Granzow possesses the size and quickness to play linebacker or defensive end.

"He has great athletic ability and desire," Fulmer said. "He has leadership qualities that will develop the next couple of years. He is ready to realize some great potential playing football."

Granzow chose Tennessee over UCLA, Arizona and California after dominating Western State Conference opponents for Moorpark College last season. That he so quickly became a big-time prospect is a testament to his natural ability.

Playing behind Raynoch Thompson at weakside linebacker, Granzow has 26 tackles, including 16 unassisted. He has caused a fumble and has two tackles for losses.

Improvement is rapid. He had five tackles in the Volunteers' 59-21 victory over Kentucky last week.

"I feel really good about how this season is going," Granzow said. "I'm playing a lot and our team couldn't be better. The whole decision of coming to Tennessee worked out great."

Granzow has adapted well to the measured cadence of life in the South. He and a teammate rent a house on a lake. He has a full load of classes and anticipates graduating with a degree in history by June 2000.

"The adjustment was easy because I keep to myself and I like a slower pace," he said. "It's a change from the go, go, go of California."

Granzow was a high school quarterback, leading Faith Baptist to the Southern Section Eight-Man Large Division championship. He set passing and rushing records, and on defense tossed around ballcarriers like Gulliver shedding Lilliputians.

But it was in baseball that his reputation approached mythical proportions. Despite playing on a dirt field and rarely facing a pitcher with an 80-mph fastball, Granzow impressed scouts enough to negotiate an $80,000 signing bonus.

He was sent to rookie league in Yakima, Wash. Two years of batting .220 took its toll, however, and Granzow quit and came home to Canoga Park.

Not far from Tennessee's football stadium is a ramshackle, homey baseball field that serves as home to the double-A Knoxville Smokies. Granzow knows it's there, but he isn't tempted to have a look.

"If I'd have stuck it out, I'd probably be about at that level," he said. "But it wasn't fun for me anymore. I just couldn't get it going."

Football, it turns out, revs Granzow's motor. Although he hadn't played football since 1994 and never played in an 11-man game, he stepped in at Moorpark and became the best defensive player in the conference.

Because he attended Valley College in 1996-97, he made enough academic progress after one year at Moorpark to transfer. His three seasons of eligibility made him especially attractive to Division I schools.

Including more than one with an unbeaten record.

"I nearly went to UCLA and sometimes I look at their team and think I could be starting on their defense," he said. "But Tennessee has become home."

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