Grant Varner prides himself on being tough, but a small muscle tear has turned into a larger problem that has put him on the sideline.
Heading toward his junior season with the Brown University football team, Varner missed spring practice and will participate in light summer workouts after a micro-tear in his right pectoral muscle became more than a small matter.
The 2015 Grandview Heights High School graduate is hoping to get back on the field this fall.
"I pride myself on my toughness and I have been able to play through several injuries," said Varner, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound defensive lineman. "In football, everyone is always dealing with something and you just deal with it. My pec was partially torn for a while, but I wasn't aware of it until it was totally torn."
The tear became complete during bench-press testing just before spring practice began.
"I have been coaching 35 years and probably only seen eight or 10 (such injuries)," Brown defensive line coach Neil McGrath said. "When they lift, they can get micro-tears and won't even know about it until it gets bigger. It's just one of those things."
Varner has lifted weights for years and was surprised by the injury.
"I was benching and we were maxing out and I got a grade 3 tear," he said. "It was a complete tear of the pectoral major muscle from the tendon that connected the muscle to the bone."
Varner has been staying away from heavy lifting with his torn muscle on the mend. Flexibility is the primary concern at this point.
"I had to take a few weeks of resting and I was able to do some light stretching to add more flexibility," he said. "Now I'm back into benching, but with super-light weights."
As a senior at Grandview, Varner was first-team all-state in Division VI, recording 94 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass break-up.
He quickly saw action at Brown, which is in Providence, Rhode Island. His first playing time came in the final five games of his freshman season, and he played in all 10 games last fall.
In two seasons, Varner has totaled 41 tackles, three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
"I've learned that you have to not only work hard in general but continue to work hard to stay on top," said Varner, who has not declared a major. "And balancing the classwork isn't easy. I got two A's last semester for the first time, and they were two pretty tough classes. I'm trying to narrow down what I would like to do after taking two years of open curriculum. I want to do something where I'm out talking to people instead of just sitting at a desk."
Varner has shown continued improvement, including strong performances late in his sophomore season. He had seven tackles in a 27-22 win over Yale on Nov. 5 then one week later had a sack and a forced fumble in a 24-21 win over Dartmouth.
Brown finished 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League last fall. The Bears were 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the league in his freshman season.
"Grant will be in our rotation of three or four defensive tackles," McGrath said. "He is a physical kid and is probably the strongest guy out of that group.
"Grant could have used the spring (practices) as another period of development for him. He needs to work on his assignments and just to continue learning how to play consistently. My prognosis is he'll be back when (fall) camp starts Aug. 21. He's done a good job for us, and we expect a good year from him."