Anxiety greeted itself to every one of the players in the locker room while their eyes fixated on the television. Their future’s broadcasting in front of them with ESPN’s 2012 Football Championship Subdivision playoff bracket. A cloud of trepidation makes its way throughout the room with postseason seedings being named one after another.
No. 1 North Dakota
No. 2 Eastern Washington
No. 3 Montana State
No. 4 Old Dominion
It was the morning after Northern Arizona football’s devastating home loss to Cal Poly to put an end to their regular season. The game’s outcome stung like fresh wounds whose incisions grew deeper with each school’s name called on the 20-team bracket.
The field just outside of their locker was as crisp as the bruises left throughout their bodies from the game not more than 20 hours prior.
It was still early in the first quarter when Cal Poly took its first and only lead of the game. A pass from quarterback Cary Grossart was haplessly tipped directly into the hands of Mustangs’ linebacker Nick Dzubnar. NAU’s season and share of their first Big Sky Conference title in nearly a decade ran away for a 40-yard touchdown and never looked back.
“Football is life. There’s highs, there’s lows,” said Grossart taking one more poke at his scarred wound. “That was a game that was tough, you go back and you’re hard on yourself because there’s things you could have done differently.”
Grossart has been a welcomed guest to adversity, especially during his tenure at NAU. His path toward being the new signal-caller for the blue and gold came to fruition after four years with the program and a 10-month seesaw quarterback battle between now close-friend Chasen Stangel and Chase Cartwright.
Ultimately, the undersized 6-foot Grossart separated himself from the crowded quarterback competition, leading the Lumberjacks to an eight-win season for the first time since 2003 when NAU last won a share at the conference title. All eight of those games came in a row, making it the longest winning streak in a season since 1958 for the program.
“Cary was very steady and consistent,” said NAU head coach Jerome Souers. “The intangibles at that position really stand out in this game and at the end of the day, the other players reacted best to him, so he was the best guy in the lineup.”
The struggles didn’t waver then for Grossart — they rarely did.
The first game of the season came against the highly favorable ASU Devils where NAU’s main goal was to cash the check for the ASU exhibition game and get the hell out.
Just days after being named the starter and early in the first quarter of his first collegiate start, Grossart tore his PCL. His season was doubtful, but, somehow, after just a two-week leave, a limited Grossart sporting a fixated knee brace on his right leg returned and helped get the Lumberjacks back to relevancy, hobbling to his first win as a starter against Montana and six-straight conference wins before his last clash against Cal Poly to finish his career as a Lumberjack.
It may not have been how he wanted his college playing days to end, but it brought with him to where he is today.
Since his departure from NAU, Grossart has taken up a different position in football, suiting up and joining the player labor organization for the top sport in the United States, the National Football League Players Association.
In his current role as business development manager, Grossart oversees the commercial rights of NFL players through licensing marketing. Partners include EA Sports Madden series, Panini Trading Cards and just about anything that has the potential to bring in revenue-generating gain for the players.
Grossart’s journey up the ladder of the NFLPA can be linked directly back to his time at NAU and his family tree whose roots have always been deeply tied to football — especially at the professional level.
Despite not being able to participate in an internship during his time as a student athlete, Grossart knew that he still wanted to be involved with the game of football and its players in some manner.
That’s when the opportunity to represent players through the NFLPA opened to him.
Links between the NFLPA and Grossart first began through his father, Kyle Grossart, a quarterback in the NFL for two seasons (1980-1981) with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. Kyle never threw a pass in the professional league, but he may have completed the process of his son getting an internship with the NFLPA right out of college.
His single season with the Raiders was accompanied with Hall of Fame left guard Gene Upshaw who served as an immovable anchor for two Super Bowl championships with the Raiders and as an unwavering leader of change for player rights as the NFLPA’s executive director for a quarter of a century before his death in 2008.
Upshaw led multiple player strikes, including one that lasted 57 days that altered the NFL and NFLPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which included a new severance pay plan, a medical “bill of rights” and a guaranteed expenditure for player costs that drastically raised the percentage of team revenues that went directly to its players.
Others that supported Grossart in his efforts to joining the NFLPA came in three from NAU, each provided letters of recommendations on Grossart’s behalf. One being former NAU offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who is currently serving as quarterback coach for Grossart’s favorite team growing up, the San Francisco 49ers. Director of School of Communication Brant Short sent a letter in as well for the communication major, and the final letter coming from none other than the “Voice of the Lumberjacks,” Mitch Strohman, NAU’s primary athletics announcer since 2004.
“My mentors [at NAU] wrote recommendations for me and knowing I didn’t have any internships during school,” Grossart said. “It speaks to the support system I have, the relationships I have. It’s my family, my network of good people that have helped me get to where I’m at for sure.”
Strohman was more than willing to assist Grossart in his efforts of joining the NFLPA. As a matter of fact, he revered it.
“When he approached me to write a letter or recommendation for him, I didn’t hesitate for a second to say yes,” said Strohman. “In fact, I was honored that he would want my words to support his efforts for the internship. That he valued me as much as he did overwhelmed me on a personal level. It was a very emotional moment for me.”
Strohman grew to know Grossart’s welcoming personality and altruistic nature early on in his career as a student athlete. As a man who waited his turn and scaled the heights of the quarterback depth chart that at one point in time mounted to six players, was something that leaped out for Strohman.
So, when it came to writing a letter, it came seamlessly. Strohman said the words flowed easier than they ever have for someone that was accustomed to writing letters of recommendations for students of NAU. A reoccurring event that often took a dozen drafts to finish before the words would fit properly. This time, they came to Strohman almost instantly and within a day, the letter was sent off.
During a recent interview, it took no more than a few minutes for Strohman to pull up the same letter he sent out late July 2013. Within the letter, he lauded Grossart in his thriving nature in a competitive environment, his ability to becoming stronger in the face of adversity, but most importantly, his awareness of those around him and the ability to put the welfare of others before his own.
Those words have held firmly over the last five years as Grossart took that first internship and propelled himself into his current position as business development manager.
“I don’t have the words to describe how proud of him I am,” Strohman said half-chuckling and halfway thrown back in his chair. “I’m not trying to be flip and I’m not trying to be too comfortable in saying so, but I envy him. I look at that young man and where he’s at in his career and, boy, I would love to be in his shoes right now.”
Working alongside some of the greatest athletes on the planet, who wouldn’t want to be in his position?
Even though Grossart considers himself as a professional who can handle himself in the present light of NFL stars, even he couldn’t take himself out of the moment when fellow 6-foot quarterback, and idol Drew Brees graced his presence with a hellacious golden aura for an event with the NFLPA.
“I studied Drew Brees’ film religiously because he was a 6-foot quarterback and it’s so different between the way he moves in the pocket compared to guys that have that stature,” Grossart said. “I remember Brees and idolizing him and I’ll never forget, as an intern, seeing him walking through the door.”
Despite in the presence of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Grossart has been focused on his career at the NFLPA and making strides in his department for financial opportunities for the players and the association as a whole.
Strides in health and safety are always at the forefront. The conversation has steered its way for more profit to the players through monetizing sports betting and fantasy football, with an estimate of around 60 million participating in fantasy sports according to Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Fully guaranteed contracts are also a hot topic in the NFL, considering injuries are more prevalent and it’s the only major sport that doesn’t have it structured within contracts. Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousin is a lone outlier after signing a three-year fully guaranteed $84 million deal last offseason, but Grossart likes what he sees for the future.
“I think we’re going to be able to carve out some great things coming for the players up in 2021 [CBA talks],” Grossart said.
The clock turned back, almost six years to the day.
His mind returned to his final game as a Lumberjack and the despondent-filled locker room the morning after. Sore to the bone, with an unstable knee and an unknowing future in front of him, Grossart overcame his loss and never looked back.
“You realize the wins and losses don’t really matter,” Grossart said. “It’s how you grow through those experiences and I would say that the losses in my life and the tough times have done much more for me than the wins, for sure.”