Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

August 19, 2012

Grossi focused on new goal – leadership

ATHENS — For all of Zack Grossi’s immense passing statistics, he has come into training camp for Concord University this summer with a new goal — to lead the team.

“I’ve been around here awhile now,” the senior quarterback said. “Especially the senior class, we’ve put a lot of work in. It’s our time to lead the team to where it wants to be — to hold the team accountable.”

Grossi passed for 2,541 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011, earning West Virginia Conference player of the week honors.

He made second-team all-conference, for the second time in his Concord career, and the Mountain Lions reached one of their goals — the WVIAC football championship.

The 6-foot-2 signal-caller from Odessa, Fla., enters the season No. 18 on the all-time conference passing list with 6,562 aerial yards.

This year, he decided, that’s not enough.

Concord head coach Garin Justice said, “The biggest development with Zack is, he’s finally learned to be a leader. Coach [Dustin] Ward has done a great job with Zack. He’s been molding him and teaching him.”

“When he first came here,” Justice said, “he wasn’t a leader. Last year, you could tell he knew he wanted to be a leader, but didn’t know how. This year he’s put it together. He wants to be a leader, and knows how.”

“We really noticed a big impact in the spring.”

Grossi said, “Four years makes a big difference. I’ve grown up a lot. I’m 22, about to be 23.”

“The biggest difference on the football field is above the shoulders. You have to know when things turn bad, to stay calm. When things are good, you can’t let your emotions get too high; when things are bad, don’t get too low.”

“I’ve been here for some big wins and some tough losses. Losing makes you stronger, when you have to battle through adversity, lead your team through it and come out the other side.”

He has also grown in his ability to perform on the field.

“You can’t even compare to where it was three or four years ago,” he said. “Once you’ve played for awhile, the game slows down. You know where the defense can rotate too, you know where the pressure is coming from.”

“When I work with the players here for the first time, I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. It will slow down.’ ”

“You really have to keep it simple. Read it out. It comes down to the fundamentals. There is only so much the defense can do out there. You can’t get distracted by what the defense does. You’ve got to stick to the game plan — stick to your reads, stick to the runs.”

“You don’t get an instruction manual to play the game. It’s a baptism by fire. You learn it as you go. Your focus has got to be on the process, not ‘the prize.’

“Football games are won well before Saturday. They’re won in practice, they’re won in the weight room, they’re won in the film room.”

“It’s like, you’ve got to win the war, then fight it.”

“If you prepare, you can play with confidence. That’s all you can do, really, is to prepare your best — though you have to know bad things are going to happen.”

• • •

On separate occasions in his collegiate years, Grossi has had to deal with both shoulder and knee injuries that knocked him out of portions of his football seasons. Rehabilitation was arduous, but there was never a question that he would not continue with the sport.

“I would be a very different person without football in my life,” he said. He expressed gratitude that he had the chance to play collegiately, after California (Pa.) University gave him a scholarship. He then followed their assistant coach, Mike Kellar, to Concord when Kellar was hired as the Mountain Lions’ head coach.

“Football teaches you so much about life. Life is so hard. ... Nobody’s going to be there to baby you.”

“Guys don’t even realize, even when they’re playing, what football does for you — how guys work as a team, how you set goals, all of that.”

“Football breaks you down, until you feel you’re 2 feet tall. Then it makes you a man, because you have to build yourself back up.”

“When life is at its worst, football helps you deal with it, because you have the discipline to get through the adversity.”

• • •

For most of his time at Concord, until last spring, Grossi was lining up in the backfield with running back Brian Kennedy.

The two provided a potent one-two punch with the running of “B.K.” and Grossi’s passing, but Kennedy has finished his collegiate eligibility, earned his business administration degree and moved back to northern Virginia.

“It is different,” Grossi said. “We played so many games together, we could do things out there without talking. He knew what I was thinking. There were some times where the coaches would have a certain play to run, but we knew he needed to stay in and chip out,” or block a defender.

Grossi’s respect for his former backfield mate is unmistakable. “He was at his best when the stakes were the highest,” Grossi said. “I had the best view of his runs. I’ve got the most respect for him. ... I would go to war with him every day.”

The quarterback is also adapting to a new center, after Brandon Link graduated this year. Grossi said Justice asked him his thoughts on who should fill the position “way back in the spring.” Grossi suggested Cody Smith. He got the job.

“I call him Butkus,” Grossi said. “That was my guy. He’s such a scrapper, such a fighter. He will give everything. All those guys on the offensive line are going to fight ’til they have nothing left.”

Smith, now a senior, has already been on the line for several years. He played guard last fall. “I don’t anticipate any falloff at that position,” Grossi said. “He knows the calls. He takes control of the line.”

He admires offensive linemen, he said, because of their toughness. “They battle so hard in those trenches,” he said. “They lay it all on the line to protect me and the team. I love these guys to death. I’d to anything for those guys.”

Quarterbacks, in contrast, “show our toughness by staying in the pocket, taking the hits, by coming out with the same focus, showing up every day — and staring down the gun barrel. That’s how we get the respect of our teammates.”

• • •

The Concord squad has heard time and time again not to get complacent with last season’s league championship accomplishment.

As defending champions, he said, “We have a bigger role now. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard.”

“Last year is last year,” Grossi said. “You don’t get to carry over any of the wins, the stats, the touchdowns. You have to re-earn that, every year.”

“Last year was great, but you can’t lose the edge,” he said. “We have to play with an edge, with anger. [We have to] find a new edge every year.”

“We have to win today. We have to put the work in so we’re ready for any situation. ... We just have to take care of us, take care of our preparation. I think we’ll be fine.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

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