How Dennis Grosel evolved from a preferred walk-on to BC’s starting quarterback

“It’s not the most typical story. It’s not glamorous.”

Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions this season.
Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions this season. –Richard Shiro/AP Photo

Dennis Grosel was walking out of his high school graduation Mass when his football coach, Chuck Kyle, stepped into the aisle and told Grosel to meet him outside afterward.

Grosel didn’t think much of the gesture, as conversations with Kyle were commonplace, and he assumed he was simply congratulating him. What followed was a discussion that would not only change Grosel’s day, but one that would also shape the rest of his life.

Kyle told Grosel he had talked to the coaches at Boston College, and they had a spot for him as a preferred walk-on. There was one catch, though. It was Sunday, and they had to know by Friday.

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Grosel, who dazzled in both football and baseball at the private school in Cleveland, had already made a down payment to attend Butler University, with the hopes of walking onto the baseball team. Football was an integral part of his past, yet he had grown to accept that it might not be part of his future.

That all changed in a matter of seconds. Grosel weighed the pros and cons all week, waffling between the practical and the spectacular, and he ultimately decided to come to BC.

“I ended up saying, ‘Screw it. Let’s do it.’ It was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Grosel told Boston.com.

Three-plus years later, the redshirt sophomore Grosel is thrilled he made that choice. Grosel started his college career as a member of the scout team, earned a scholarship this offseason, and has impressed as the starting quarterback with Anthony Brown sidelined due to injury.

He’s become a real-life Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights, an unassuming and joyful backup who did everything right and capitalized on the chance when it finally came. Those who know him well, including his teammate and roommate Andrew Strader, aren’t at all surprised.

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“He was thrust into the spotlight,” Strader said, “but I think he was always ready for it.”

“It’s not the most typical story. It’s not glamorous.”

Heading into his freshman year of high school, Grosel wasn’t sure which position in football would suit him best, but he had a hunch it might be quarterback.

He had confidence in his arm, and the idea of having all that pressure and responsibility invigorated him. When the starter went down during Grosel’s sophomore year, he stepped up and saw his first action, much like he did this year.

Grosel emerged as the starter his junior year and had a breakout season, and by the time he was an upperclassman, he was seriously considering playing college football. Some local schools approached him, though there wasn’t an option that truly enticed him.

Around that same time, he was entering his third season as a starter on the varsity baseball team, and he didn’t want to limit himself by devoting all his energy to one or the other.

“I loved them both and couldn’t really pick one or the other,” Grosel said. “Everyone said, ‘Why don’t you just focus on one?’ but I really couldn’t. I don’t think I could have physically brought myself to do that.”

For the most part, there was no difficulty flip-flopping between the two, however logistically, it was sometimes tricky to strike a balance. College camps for baseball took place in the fall when he was playing football, and football camps were in the summer, when he was playing baseball. He knows that’s not the only reason he didn’t have any football scholarship offers coming out of high school, but he believes that’s part of it.

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He did, however, have some bites on the baseball side, including looks from Mid-American Conference schools and some colleges in Michigan. Grosel ended up choosing Butler, confident he’d be able to walk on when he arrived yet slightly discouraged by the way the overall process unfolded.

“It’s not the most typical story,” Grosel said. “It’s not glamorous.”

While he was disappointed his dream of college football didn’t pan out, he was still satisfied with his decision and optimistic that it would work out.

Then BC football entered the picture out of nowhere. He knew very little about the school outside of the basics, yet he didn’t want to regret not going. Grosel decided it was time to move East, but he couldn’t go quite yet.

He embraced his role as a member of the scout team.

Because the situation materialized so late, Grosel wasn’t able to come to BC during the summer or fall. He started college in the winter of 2017, and before he did, he gained valuable experience as an assistant coach for Kyle and the Wildcats.

After a summer that included a minor knee operation and the ensuing rehab, Grosel benefited from mentoring some of his former teammates while also getting in plenty of reps himself. The Snapchats from his friends having fun at college didn’t sting quite as much, because he knew he had an important role back home and he understood his time at school was coming.

“Being a player is one thing,” Kyle said. “Being a coach, where you have to communicate, making sure you understand the whole concept, I thought that was really good for him.”

He also watched and dissected every BC game that fall, and he was relieved and overjoyed when he finally arrived on campus in January. The Eagles were fresh off a win over Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl, and Grosel’s focus was on not messing the mojo up and doing whatever was asked of him to carve out a niche for himself.

During spring ball, he quickly realized that his role on the scout team was predominantly to help sustain the offense and bring lots of energy. Fortunately, that’s a mindset he can get behind, and one he thrives in naturally.

At that point, the quarterback room was five or six players deep, and he was stuck near the bottom of the pecking order. He knew the easy thing to do would have been to pity himself, but he wouldn’t let that happen. In his second season, which ultimately became a redshirt year, he accepted that was likely going to be his role for the rest of his career.

Grosel never questioned his decision to come to BC, never regretted it, and never stopped sharpening his craft. Eventually, he got a few more reps at QB in the spring. He still didn’t expect much, but when EJ Perry and Matt McDonald transferred, a window opened up.

Suddenly, there was a blank canvas in front of him, and all he had to do was grab the brush.

“You worked your ass off for this.”

Grosel was in Hilton Head, South Carolina, enjoying a rare sliver of downtime with some friends he has from Williams College early this past summer, when he got the phone call that changed his life.

First-year BC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian, who graduated from Williams, gave him a ring. Just like when Kyle pulled him aside at graduation, Grosel didn’t think much of it initially. Once again, he was shocked by what came next.

“You better not get in trouble with all those Williams guys, because I don’t want my first scholarship quarterback getting arrested,” Bajakian jokingly told him. “It’s a bad look for me and for you.”

Grosel was in disbelief to some degree, but he was also proud. He knew he had earned it, and he was incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

“You worked your ass off for this,” Grosel recalls Bajakian telling him. “I’m proud of you, now let’s get back to work. Let’s get going.”

He called his parents, and he pieced together a few words of what his mother, Laura, said, as tears streamed down her face. His father, Dennis, also told him how proud he was, and his siblings and grandparents congratulated him as well.

“It was a really proud moment for me to be able to give that to them after they sacrificed a lot to send me here and to come up and watch the games even when they knew I wasn’t playing,” Grosel said. “At that point, you just can’t wait to get back to school, as crazy as that sounds with the two or three weeks you get off. I was ready to refocus.”

“He’s a Cleveland guy. He’s tough as hell.”

As the season unfolded, Grosel had solidified his role as the second-string quarterback. When Brown went down against Louisville, Strader was fully confident Grosel would rise to the challenge.

He watched several teammates approach Grosel on the sideline, tell him he was going to be great, and wish him good luck. Strader could only imagine how overwhelming that must have been, but he knew if anyone could handle the enormity of the moment, it was his roommate – who often barricades himself in his room watching film on his iPad while their friends were outside hanging out.

“He was able to capture his poise and capture his energy, and it was clear he was having so much fun,” Strader said. “It wasn’t a big stage to him. All he was doing was playing football in the backyard.”

Teammate Nolan Borgersen praised Grosel for staying ready and pouncing when his name was called. The Eagles lost that game, 41-39, but Grosel – who also threw seven total balls in BC’s first five games – tossed three touchdown passes and kept BC afloat.

Grosel then went through what he called the longest week of his life, preparing for NC State during the bye week. Everything was magnified, and he embraced the challenge.

He didn’t throw any interceptions against Wolfpack or Clemson, and he threw more touchdown passes (three) than incompletions (two) in a win over Syracuse. Grosel was 20 for 29 with three total TDs, including an acrobatic flip into the end zone for a score, against Florida State.

“He’s a Cleveland guy,” Strader said. “He’s tough as hell.”

When Brown went down, there was never any panic among the Eagles. They trusted Grosel, and Grosel has made them look wise for doing so.

BC needs a win over Notre Dame this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. or next Saturday at Pittsburgh to become bowl eligible. Grosel, who has worked for years to earn this opportunity, doesn’t plan to squander it.

“It’s pretty crazy and pretty surreal, really,” Grosel said. “With the whole recruiting process not being orthodox at all, the way everything panned out, the ups and the downs, looking back on some of those valleys, and bouncing back to the peaks, it really is crazy.”

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