Grossart making impression as starting quarterback
Four minutes and 24 seconds left to go in the first half. NAU with possession of the football, after forcing an Arizona punt, down 14–3. Junior quarterback Cary Grossart, starting his first game since high school, is at the helm. Four minutes and nine plays later, Grossart fires a strike to senior receiver Khalil Paden in the end zone, moving the Jacks four points closer going into halftime. At 14–10, Gossart finally gives some life to what has been a nervous and jittery offense.
Though the game didn’t turn it out as well as Grossart and the Lumberjacks would have liked, that singular drive proved why head football coach Jerome Souers elected to go with the junior as the starting quarterback, which was not without question over the course of a long and brutal offseason.
Grossart, along with senior Chasen Stangel and freshman Chase Cartwright, was embroiled in a drawn-out, competitive battle to replace departed senior Michael Herrick. Each signal caller spent had their fair share of opportunities to work with the first-team offense to see who had the best chemistry.
“It was competitive,” said Grossart. “We definitely pushed each other but we’re also friends off the field. Ultimately, by pushing each other like that, we all became better players. Our relationship has stayed the same through that battle.”
As the offseason progressed, however, Grossart started to get more reps with that unit, which he felt gave him an advantage that eventually earned him the good news.
“It was a long process but I was patient,” he said. “I had an idea [because] I was getting most of the first-team reps through training camp. It was fun for me and I was just excited for the chance.”
His head coach also saw his growing maturity, leadership and dedication as the main reasons for why Grossart was named the starter this season over Stangel and Cartwright.
“He’s very consistent and diligent about his daily work ethic,” said Souers. “The way he works with his teammates, he’s a guy that’s encouraging, positive and uplifting — the kind of guy that makes everyone else better.”
Souers also noted the time it took for him to announce the California native as the top quarterback, but that he was waiting to see more than just his attitude.
“You want to see your starter be knowledgeable about the system, knowledgeable about not just his job, but everybody else’s job on the field,” said the 14-year head coach. “You also want to see how well he conducts himself on the field, off the field, his relationship with the coaches. It takes a bit of time to see it all and see the picture get clearer, and in his case, it got clearer and clearer.”
As far as on-the-field talents go, Grossart feels that he has something that allows him to stand out from the other quarterbacks on the roster and maybe in the Big Sky Conference (BSC): his playmaking ability.
“When things break down and the defense throws some different looks at you, being able to keep the chains moving and make plays,” he said. “Whether its with my feet or finding someone downfield, I’d say that’s what kind of sets me apart from some other quarterbacks.”
Some of that ability was evident in the season opener against UA when Grossart’s offensive line could not hold down a powerful and fast defensive line from getting to him. The junior was able to scramble around and avoid the pressure and convert nothing into something, including some first downs. But the communication major does not mind having to do that because he feels that’s the best part of his game.
“I’m definitely a dual-threat guy,” said Grossart. “In the run game this year, with Zach [Bauman] and I back there, it gives the defense a different look they’ve got to worry about with two guys.”
For the rest of the game, Grossart completed 20 of his 26 attempts, including a string of 16 straight completions at one point — two away from setting a new school record. He threw for a total of 179 yards and a touchdown, but also had an interception.
Grossart credits somebody else in his life for being a major influence on how he handles his position. His father Kyle played quarterback for Oregon State and even had stints in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, but did not get into a game in his two professional seasons.
“To have somebody that’s been there before and to just have a calming voice is huge,” said Grossart. “Not a lot of people have that in their life and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
To some people, playing quarterback is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job, with no life outside of football. According to teammates, Grossart is definitely not that way. They characterize their leader as an all-around enjoyable person who would prefer to think of football as a hobby rather than a chore.
“We hang out all the time,” said senior tight end Brian Riley. “He’s awesome. A very personable guy who’s always there for you. He’s just a good friend.”
Of course, Grossart doesn’t excuse himself from doing what he has to when the lights are on and all eyes are focused on him.
“I’ve known Cary since he’s been here,” said Riley. “I was here on his recruiting trip. He’s a leader by nature. When he’s in the huddle, he’s very vocal, he gets us going and he gets us up to the line quick. We respect him a lot.”
And with that camaraderie comes the ability to be the face of the team that Grossart, according to his coach, needs to be both on and off the field.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect,” Souers said. “They’ve worked hard together, that first group particulary. I think the amount of time they’ve had in a shared investment makes them more important to each other. Two minutes left in the game and you’re around people who care about you and you tend to get a better performance in that setting.”
Only time will tell if Grossart is the man for the job, but one thing is for certain: There is a lot of trust going around, and that is the best asset that the quarterback can ask for.