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Fun, humility key to Gant's outlook

Former special-teams expert shares his eight years of experience with young Buc hopefuls.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


TAMPA -- Kenny Gant always thought of himself as a starter, even though he never was listed as one in the program.

Gant, a former Buccaneer and Cowboy, spent eight years as a special-teams guru in the NFL while backing up players like John Lynch. But when the game started, you always found Gant on the field doing his famed "Shark Dance."

"Every game they start with the kickoff or the kickoff return and I was out there. I started the game," said Gant, who recorded 103 kick-coverage tackles in his career, which included three seasons in Tampa Bay. "That's how I looked at it. I just took pride in what I did."

Gant is trying to instill that same pride in the players the Bucs will use to enhance their special teams. Gant is helping special-teams coach Joe Marciano through training camp and possibly one or two regular-season games as part of the NFL's Minority Internship Program.

Marciano couldn't be more pleased.

"It's the first time I've ever had anybody to work with, and he's a guy who's played, who's done it and made a living off of special teams," Marciano said. "With the intern program, they always bring a guy in for defense or offense. I said bring a guy in for special teams."

The Bucs do have two coaches in for the offense and defense. Purdue's Kevin Sumlin is working with the offense and Duke's Brad Sherrod is working with the defense.

Gant, who would like to parlay his internship into a coaching career, is leaning heavily on his NFL experience, and hopes the team's young players will benefit by taking his humble outlook. Chances are they'll listen, especially when you consider Gant has two Super Bowl rings from his Dallas days.

"I just hope that's one thing I can do, is give them a little bit of my knowledge, especially for the young guys trying to make the team," Gant said. "They're playing behind guys as backups and a lot of them are going to make this team on special teams.

"I talk about that a lot when I'm speaking to the young guys. "I stuck around for eight years doing this right here.' It's not the best 53 athletes that are going to make this team, it's the 53 that you think you can win with. You've got to have a knack for it. I just didn't have any sense, and I loved it."

Gant loved football and special teams so much that after his NFL career ended, he spent another season with the Mobile Admirals of the Regional Football League. The Lakeland Kathleen graduate said the Admirals' long bus rides -- including one 17-hour trek to Ohio -- were a far cry from his NFL days, but he never wavered about his decision to play in the low-profile league.

"I was always the one who stuck in there," Gant said. "We ended up winning the championship. I won the championship, got me another ring. I had fun."

Gant hopes to have as much fun coaching, and thoughts of the job have even invaded his sleep. He said recently he had a dream the Bucs returned a kickoff for a touchdown. That's quite a dream when you consider in 24 years of regular-season play, the Bucs have never returned a kick all the way to the end zone.

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