Kaion Julien-Grant had reached a fork in the road.
While at St. Michael’s College School, the Toronto native excelled as a shooting guard and defensive stopper in basketball, while playing wide receiver, linebacker and returner with the football team.
When it was time to focus on one sport for his varsity career as a student-athlete, Julien-Grant selected the pig skin.
“I started taking it more seriously towards the end of high school. I was always a fan of it from by Dad, of course,” he said of his selection.
Julien-Grant’s father, Karim, starred with the Acadia Axemen before fashioning a professional career with stints in the CFL and NFL.
And, like his father, university brought him to rural Nova Scotia – just to Antigonish rather than Wolfville.
“I just felt at home. I felt like I belonged there,” Julien-Grant said of his visit to the St. F.X. campus.
“I never got that feeling at any other of the schools that I visited.”
Since arriving in Antigonish, Julien-Grant has etched his name in both the St. F.X. and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) record books.
The fourth-year human kinetics student is sixth in the conference with 4,563 career all-purpose yards, which places him at the top of the X-Men list.
He is tied for fifth in AUS history with 22 receiving touchdowns, while his receiving yards (2,032) and receptions (118) place him 11th and 13th, respectively.
Julien-Grant, who has garnered three consecutive AUS all-star and All-Canadian nods, capped the 2018 campaign with the conference’s MVP award.
In helping lead the Blue and White to its third AUS title in four seasons, he led the conference in receptions (49), receiving yards (638), yards-per-catch (6.1) and yards-per game (79.8), while tying for top spot in TD catches (five).
Along with his MVP trophy, Julien-Grant collected all-star spots as a receiver and kick returner.
“I think I have really improved as a player and our program has also made great progress,” he said.
As for his preferred position – receiver or kick returner – Julien-Grant said “I like them both the same.”
When asked about the qualities he brings to each position, the record-setting student-athlete pointed to his speed and ability as a returner, along with getting open on his routes as a receiver.
“It is more of a dependent position, you are relying on the quarterback, the OC (offensive co-ordinator) and there are a lot of variables; whereas, returning, you only have to catch the ball and, basically, make a guy miss and rely on your blocks,” Julien-Grant explained.
‘Amazing young man’
X-Men head coach Gary Waterman described him as the total package – that rare combination of size, strength, speed and power.
“You knew – right away – that he was special,” Waterman said in reflecting on the recruiting process.
And, most importantly, he added, Julien-Grant showed “great character.”
“He is just an amazing young man,” Waterman said.
As for his development – and achievements – with the X-Men, he agreed Julien-Grant has been second-to-none.
Waterman noted the four-year player saw limited action in his freshman campaign, which he said makes his achievements “even more impressive.”
“Kaion has that ability to make people miss and he can go up and grab the ball, even in double coverage,” he said of the student-athlete’s qualities as a wide receiver.
He added Julien-Grant “can take a short one and turn it into a big play,” when it comes to being able to collect yards after the catch.
“And, he has a way to make tacklers slip off,” Waterman noted.
There are also his “excellent hands” and the ability to move “from 0 to 100” in the bat of an eye.
“His acceleration is incredible,” Waterman said.
As a punt and kick returner, he said Julien-Grant uses those aforementioned great hands to make the tough catches.
“He can take it vertically so quickly and uses his acceleration to find those seams; not to mention he has the ability to get separation and he knows how to finish,” Waterman said.
Beyond the statistics, he noted, Julien-Grant has brought so much to the X-Men program.
“Everyone loves Kaion – he is a great teammate,” Waterman said, describing him as a “super kid.”
“He is so humble and has a tremendous work ethic,” he added.
And, Waterman noted, Julien-Grant is “always smiling.”
Those myriad skills – more and more – have attracted attention from the professional ranks, including the Canadian Football League (CFL).
The CFL Scouting Bureau, which includes scouts, player personnel directors and general managers from the league’s nine teams, ranks draft eligible players three time per year.
Last month, in the most recent ratings, Julien-Grant was one of 11 U Sports’ players – and only AUS representative – on that list, coming in 13th.
“I am just continuing with the same things I have been doing,” Julien-Grant said, when asked about his preparations for the draft and possible professional career.
He noted his work will focus on drills that are specific to combines.
“I am not really going to change too much – I feel like what I have been doing is working.
“I still have a lot of growing to do, but I feel like that will come, with time,” Julien-Grant added.
Waterman said he has skills, including the ability to make “big plays,” which will allow Julien-Grant to compete “at the next level.”
“I think the future is bright for him as a professional,” he added.
The 2019 CFL draft will take place in May.