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Soph Touch
Kelley King
November 19, 2001
Fun-loving and Steve Spurrier-Resistant, Florida's may become the first second-year player to win the Heisman Trophy
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November 19, 2001

Soph Touch

Fun-loving and Steve Spurrier-Resistant, Florida's may become the first second-year player to win the Heisman Trophy

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Yet while his career was followed closely by Midwestern schools like Indiana, Michigan and Purdue, he wasn't a blip on the radar screen at Florida. When Dan called the Gators' athletic department in January 1998 to arrange a visit, Jim Collins, Florida's recruiting chief, told him, "We don't recruit Indiana." Dan persisted, and Collins agreed to meet with father and son in late February. When the Grossmans arrived at the athletic offices, they ran into Spurrier, who had just returned from a golfing trip to Mexico. Spurrier sat down with them and, says Rex, "What I thought was going to be 20 minutes turned into four hours." Rex, who had become enamored of Florida's Fun 'n' Gun offense during the Wuerffel era, showed Spurrier his highlight tape, and Spurrier showed him a highlight tape from the Gators' 1996 national championship season. "That sold me," says Rex. "The man, sure, but more the system."

Spurrier was equally charmed by Grossman's confidence and his whip-quick release—quicker, Spurrier says, than that of any quarterback he had coached in Gainesville. When Grossman returned home from spring break in Colorado in March, a scholarship offer from Spurrier was in the mailbox. "I never thought I couldn't play at Florida," says Grossman. "It was just a matter of convincing other people."

After redshirting in 1999, Grossman got his first real chance, in the second game of the 2000 season, with 84,000 fans in the Swamp watching the Gators toss around Middle Tennessee. After a second-quarter play in which senior quarterback Jesse Palmer didn't spot an open receiver, a furious Spurrier wheeled around to Grossman and asked, "Did you see [that receiver]?"

"Yes," Grossman answered.

Spurrier then diagrammed a post route in the air. "Can you do that?" he asked.

"Yes," Grossman said.

"Then get in there," said Spurrier.

Grossman obliged and promptly threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to wideout Alex Willis. On his third play of that game, he tossed a 19-yard scoring pass. He finished the game, which Florida won 55-0, with 95 yards on 9-for-14 passing. Three weeks later Grossman—who had entered the season third on the depth chart, behind Palmer and freshman Brock Berlin, the 1999 USA Today offensive player of the year—was named the starter.

Over the season's final eight games, he showed a potential for brilliance. In a 41-9 win over LSU, Grossman pulled off what Spurrier calls "one of the alltime great plays at the Swamp" when he scrambled to recover an errant snap, evaded two blitzing defenders and fired a nine-yard touchdown strike to wideout Jabar Gaffney (who remains his favorite target). At times, however, Grossman was too eager to display the ability that Spurrier had heralded. In a 37-20 Sugar Bowl loss to Miami, Grossman forced two throws that were intecepted, and minutes after the game Spurrier announced that the starting quarterback job was again open.

Grossman had passed for 1,866 yards and an SEC-best 21 touchdowns, but over the next eight months he had to fight Berlin for the job. Grossman, who's majoring in leisure services management, took a step backward when he was suspended from the first two days of spring practice for what Spurrier called "lousy academic effort." By the summer, sports websites were reporting rumors that Grossman was skipping summer conditioning workouts to goof off in Indiana. ("He was home for maybe a weekend," says his father.)

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