Column by TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The terrible news that Concord University quarterback Zack Grossi had been badly hurt in a car wreck sent shock waves through the team and its fans on Monday.
The completely unexpected turn of events was much more than a blow to the Mountain Lions’ ability to put up points on the scoreboard for the rest of the season. It was the end of the playing career for a truly genuine, unassuming, gutsy young man.
Grossi was in his senior year of eligibility and in the preseason he was looking at finishing it off with a playoff run.
“We have to win today,” he said during a wide-ranging interview. “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.”
That preseason interview took place in two 1970s-era plastic chairs at the bottom of a stairwell. Time was precious and other rooms on that floor of the athletics complex all appeared to be occupied.
The location for the interview didn’t matter to Grossi. It was a task that needed to be done. We sat down, and he offered well-thought out comments that got at his outlook on life and the game of football, and on his relationships as a member of a team.
Another of his comments came to mind after Monday’s news sank in. I thought about it particularly as I passed those two plastic chairs in the stairwell.
“When life is at its worst, football helps you deal with it, because you have the discipline to get through the adversity,” he said.
“Football teaches you so much about life. Life is so hard. ... Nobody’s going to be there to baby you.”
He will need that discipline as he moves through rehabilitation of his injuries and enters a new phase of his life. He loves football. He wants to be a coach.
Players and coaches alike are apt to talk about “controlling the things we can control.” But as we all know, the unexpected can happen, things for which you can’t plan fully.
Concord head coach Garin Justice talked about injuries last weekend in the context of some other Mountain Lion football players who had been injured on the field.
“It’s a long season,” Justice said. “Everybody’s got to be ready to be called upon. We’re not going to be putting the same starting 11 out there every week. ... If one falls, the next guy needs to pick up the musket and keep on marching.”
Justice wanted to send that message strongly on Thursday afternoon.
“We will miss Zack, but we are not quitting on the season,” the coach said.
He said that members of the Concord team have visited their teammate since Monday.
“I know he’s felt the love and support of our guys. He knows he was a leader. If he didn’t know before, he knows now. All the guys came by.”
Grossi transferred to Concord from California (Pa.) when his former offensive coordinator, Mike Kellar was named head coach at CU.
“He took a chance on us, three years ago,” Justice said.
It didn’t take long to realize that there was something magical going on in Athens. Grossi was in the process of helping craft complete break from Concord’s recent losing seasons, putting up 200-plus yards a game passing the ball to Thomas Mayo and other talented CU receivers.
He didn’t let the success go to his head. He would typically try to explain that Kellar’s system was about identifying open targets based on spreading out the defense. He called it “playing the numbers,” as I recall.
For Grossi, it was never about his intelligence, arm strength, stamina, or his determination to keep the play alive when defenders crashed the pocket around him.
But in his collegiate career, there were also shoulder and knee injuries that cut short his playing time.
Each time, he came back to the game he loved, and passed the ball at a level few can reach. He finishes his playing days with the 12th-most passing yards in the long history of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — 7,048 yards.
But that’s not all. Even with all of his accomplishments as a quarterback, Justice said he “was a better person, and leader.”
He still is.
Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and editorial cartoonist. Contact him at tbone @ bdtonline.com.