Sticking Around: Grosel Stayed at BC to Be the Glue for Others
DENNIS GROSEL ISN’T MISCHIEVOUS like the 1950s comic strip character, “Dennis the Menace.”
But, as his mother Laura says, the former Boston College quarterback is a “bull in a china shop.”
“He’ll walk into a room, and a picture will fall off the wall, or something will break,” Grosel’s father, Dennis Sr., mentions.
“He seems to break pretty much anything that he comes around or touches.”
Dennis Sr. joked that you need to hide “the good stuff” whenever Grosel walks into a room. Then, chuckling, he launched into a story about Grosel rushing from a baseball game to his younger brother Tommy’s church confirmation. Instead of showering at home, Grosel decided to wash off at his grandmother’s house to save time.
“He literally comes walking out of the bathroom holding the shower knob in like four pieces,” Dennis Sr. said. “He goes, ‘Grammy, I don't know what happened. It just broke.’ She's like, ‘How could that possibly have happened?’”
Ironically, Grosel has been the glue that keeps things together. Non-material things, that is, like his family—immediate and extended—and his teammates.
Grosel, 24, is the oldest of three children. Despite the inherent competition that comes with an 18-month, brotherly age difference, he constantly encourages Tommy, who he shared the diamond with at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. And Laura says Grosel is more “overprotective than my husband” when it comes to watching out for his younger sister Nicole.
Grosel is quick-witted but goofy and humble but persistent.
He’s the kind of son who convinced his parents to get a Sheepadoodle named Archie from a five-acre dog-breeding farm in Ohio called Dennis’s Doodles during the pandemic because “it was a sign.” Smack dab in the middle of 27 cousins, he’s the kind of family member who finds time to spend with his relatives, regardless if they’re significantly older or younger than him, or if his schedule is unforgiving.
Recently, he budgeted hours out of a four-day visit home so that he could give his little cousin 1-on-1 quarterback tips.
That’s the kind of person Grosel was at BC, where he went from being a preferred walk-on who bottomed out the depth chart to being a battle-tested backup who started 14 games. He experienced highs, like when he guided the Eagles to an overtime win over Missouri last season, propelling BC to its first 4-0 start since 2007. He also experienced lows, none heavier than his dropped snap at Clemson that cost the Eagles a monumental upset win in Death Valley.
Still, he stayed true to his selfless demeanor, in spite of an emotional roller coaster that both soared to heights and plummeted to depths even he couldn’t have imagined.
“He’s always willing to help,” BC starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec said.
“He puts his pride aside.”
AT FIRST, GROSEL’S FRIENDS had to remind him of his new reality.
“There were still times where I’d be walking downtown, and someone would say, ‘Go Eagles!’ or ‘Good luck this weekend!’,” he said. “And I would be a little shocked.”
“Get with the times,” Grosel remembers his friends saying. After all, he was the starting quarterback for the only Power Five school in Boston.
But it was weird, Grosel said.
“Because that was’t the script that I had for myself, or that many people had for me.”
When Grosel graduated from St. Ignatius in 2016, he had already made a down payment for Butler University, where he hoped to walk on to the baseball team. Then BC came calling with a preferred walk-on spot for its football team. Grosel took it, even though he had never seen the school and despite the fact that he wouldn’t be able to enroll until January 2017.
To this day, Dennis Sr. doesn’t know why that phone call was made. But he’s well aware that it presented an opportunity to Grosel that allowed him to prove something—to himself.
That was a draw, Dennis Sr. confidently said.
Grosel has always been a player that’s ready to do anything his team needs. On the baseball field, he was primarily a catcher, the quarterback of the diamond. That said, he also spent time at third base and first base.
Dennis Sr. quipped that the family had enough gloves to field a team.
As for the gridiron, Grosel lined up at center, tight end, defensive back, quarterback—the list goes on. In eighth grade, he wasn’t even under center. But that didn’t stop him from competing for the quarterback position in high school. By his sophomore season at St. Ignatius, he was already starting varsity games.
When he arrived at BC as a mid-year enrollee ahead of the 2017 season, though, he adopted a long-term plan. A plan that is practically extinct in a college football world that’s been swallowed by the ever-tempting yet risk-adorned transfer portal.
“Some people come in, and they expect to play,” Grosel said. “I had no expectation of playing in my four or five years. I was just happy to be there.”
Grosel was the third-string scout quarterback. He wasn’t even getting scout team reps. Instead of focusing on BC’s game plan, Grosel spent his days learning the playbook inside and out and studying opponents’ offenses.
When he wasn’t given physical reps, he compensated with more mental reps.
Grosel’s goals were simple: bring something to the table, don’t be a distraction and, once he earned the trust of coaches, don’t mess up practice.
Grosel redshirted the 2017 season and held a clipboard for the 2018 campaign. His first two years, whoever entered the quarterback room was automatically pegged above him, Grosel said. It wasn’t until the following offseason that things started to click.
THE TWO-MINUTE DRILL is where Grosel made his mark in the spring of 2019.
He vaulted past former three-star Fordham Prep signal caller Matt Valecce. Before long, backup EJ Perry transferred to Brown, and third-string quarterback Matt McDonald transferred to Bowling Green. Earlier that offseason, Johnny Langan left for Rutgers.
“They left, and Anthony Brown and I looked at each other, Grosel said, “and we’re like, ‘Alright, I guess this is it. Let’s go get it.’”
But Brown, then BC’s third-year starter, tore his ACL for the second time in his career six games into that season. All of a sudden, on the road—in Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium—Grosel’s number was called. BC lost a nail biter, but Grosel threw three touchdowns in relief.
The 6-foot-1 mobile gunslinger went on to start the final seven games of BC’s 2019 campaign, which ended up being the final season of former head coach Steve Addazio’s seven-year tenure.
Although Grosel wasn’t asked to do much, thanks to the two-headed running back monster of AJ Dillon and David Bailey, he went 3-4 in those games. He posted a 9:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, except he completed just 48.6% of his passes. While Grosel helped beat up on North Carolina State and Syracuse, he stood no chance against Clemson and Notre Dame.
Grosel’s walk-on fairytale wasn’t over yet, though. Not even after a new coaching staff, headlined by former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, arrived.
IT WAS DEJA VU.
BC’s starting quarterback went down against, who else but Louisville. This time, it was 10 games into the 2020 season, and it was Jurkovec—a former four-star, dual-threat quarterback who transferred in from Notre Dame that offseason—that had suffered a non-contact knee injury. Jurkovec had starred for the Eagles, leading the nation in passing yards under pressure while emerging as the program’s best pro prospect under center since Matt Ryan.
Those were big shoes to fill. Especially for Grosel, who had thrown only one pass all season: a 4th-and-3 completion at Clemson that extended the first of BC’s two upset bids in Memorial Stadium. Nevertheless, he replaced Jurkovec, dusted off his wheels with a 44-yard run and tossed a pair of scores in a Senior Day win.
“I just told the team, it’s the example of what life is all about,” an emotional Hafley said postgame. “The starting quarterback gets beat out, yet he comes to work every single day.
“He’s one of our best leaders. Never complains, never says a word. All he does is prepare. And when his time came, he took the game over.”
The next week, Grosel started for the injured Jurkovec and tied Doug Flutie’s single-game program record with 520 passing yards in a loss at Virginia.
“We didn’t really know until somebody had texted us that they were announcing it on TV, showing the total yards and how many Doug Flutie had,” Dennis Sr. recounted.
“As the third quarter and fourth quarter went, you’re like, ‘Wow.’”
The performance—which also included four touchdowns and three picks—earned Grosel ACC Quarterback of the Week honors. It opened a few doors for him, too.
SHOULD HE STAY OR should he go? That was the question facing Grosel ahead of the 2021 season, and it was the subject of several conversations he and Hafley shared.
“What a lot of people told me, and what he told me, was, ‘This is kind of your time to be selfish and your time to take what you’ve worked so hard for over the last couple of years and make it about you,” Grosel said.
But that was hard for Grosel to do. Because as Dennis Sr. says, Grosel’s not a “me person.”
Grosel never actually entered the transfer portal, despite the encouragement of his family and Hafley—he could always return, they reminded him. Even without putting his name in, Grosel heard from undisclosed schools through ex-players gauging his interest level.
“When I really sat down and thought about it,” Grosel said, “in my heart of hearts, it didn’t even feel like a right move to weigh out options because I didn’t have that much interest in leaving.”
He calculated which decision would set himself up for “the next step,” whether it be a career in football or something else. BC won out.
And besides, he wanted to finish what he started—with the teammates he loved.
“He was amazing,” offensive tackle Ozzy Trapilo said. “He was definitely the glue for the quarterback room. But even other position groups. … Super approachable, super friendly, kind, funny. Sort of everything you want.”
Hafley would ask Grosel a few times a week, “Do you regret it yet?”
“I never felt like I did,” Grosel said.
He believes that would have been true had he not started a single game in 2021. Of course, that’s not what happened. Two weeks into the season, Grosel was BC’s QB1.
During the first drive of the Eagles’ Week 2 contest at UMass, Jurkovec fell awkwardly, fracturing his throwing hand in the process.
“When Phil was trying to throw on the sideline and didn’t have much feel coming with his throwing motion, I was [thinking], ‘Here we go again.’
“And Phil’s like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.’ I had known Phil well enough at that point to know that he wasn’t fine. I had [offensive coordinator Frank] Cignetti on the headset being like, ‘Dennis, what’s the deal?’ In my head, I was like, ‘It’s go time now.’”
Grosel completed 11-of-14 passes for 199 yards and a score and got BC out of Amherst with a 45-28 win in a game that, occasionally, felt too close for comfort.
The next week, BC announced that Jurkovec would miss significant time.
Grosel had been in this position before. Except, not exactly—2021 felt “a little more legit” than 2019, he said. Partly because of the expectations the program, an Atlantic Division dark horse, carried. But more so because Grosel was no longer the ex-walk-on.
“I’m no longer that guy that shouldn’t have been there,” Grosel said. “I put a ton of pressure on myself and a ton of expectations on myself to succeed and do it at a high level.
“Because I know that I could.”
NOT ONLY IS THE two-minute drill where Grosel earned his scholarship, but it’s also where he almost entered BC lore.
It could have been his Flutie moment.
Grosel had just executed it to perfection the previous week against Missouri, when he guided the Eagles to a go-ahead touchdown with 25 seconds remaining. Then, after the Eagles blew their second fourth-quarter lead, Grosel clutched the win in overtime with what ended up being a game-winning touchdown pass to Zay Flowers.
The stakes were much higher in Death Valley, where then-No. 25 Clemson had a 30-game win streak on the line and where BC hadn’t won since 2007.
The Eagles were 11 yards away from snapping their 20-game losing streak to AP Top-25 opponents. Grosel had completed 12-of-16 passes in the fourth quarter, leading not one but two potential game-winning drives.
The first ended with Flowers being stopped a yard short of the first down marker on the Clemson 23-yard line. The second ended with a mistimed snap.
With 53 ticks remaining, Grosel took his eyes off center Alec Lindstrom to look at the play clock. When it hit three seconds, the ball hit Grosel’s left hand.
Grosel couldn’t field the fumble. Clemson defensive end KJ Henry hopped on it instead to seal the Homecoming victory for the Tigers.
Dennis Sr. and Laura waited for Grosel after the game. Parents typically get five minutes with their kid between the locker room and the bus, Dennis Sr. clarified.
“You just say hi, you don’t really talk much about it,” he said. “You could tell in his face how bad it hurt him.”
It was a 180 from the week before when Grosel’s family and friends stormed the field of Alumni Stadium to celebrate his heroism in BC’s thrilling win over Missouri.
Grosel, at the time, became the fourth opposing quarterback in the last 32 games to throw for more than 300 yards against Clemson. The others were Justin Fields (Ohio State), Joe Burrow (LSU) and Ian Book (Notre Dame).
Few think of that, though. Most cling to the snap—a mistake that made the 19-13 defeat more difficult to cope with than any of Grosel’s previous losses.
“They have a 24-hour clock,” Grosel said, “but that one might have been the only one that stuck around for an extra hour.”
GROSEL BEAT HIMSELF UP about the loss. Rather than entering the bye week with a program-defining 5-0 start in the second year of the Hafley era, the Eagles were 4-1 with another close-but-no-cigar moment at the hands of ACC titan Clemson.
He knew that.
The veteran quarterback didn’t point fingers or blame the deafening noise of Memorial Stadium. Neither did Lindstrom, an All-ACC first-team center. Or anyone on the team for that matter, Grosel said.
“But it’s hard,” Grosel said. “And it stings. And I still wish I had it back.”
Grosel is adamant that the Oct. 2 defeat, itself, didn’t cause BC’s downward spiral. He said there were a handful of factors, the most notable being a myriad of injuries.
Regardless, BC’s loss in Death Valley was the start of a putrid four-game stretch in ACC play, during which the Eagles averaged a meager 10 points per contest. Grosel, who struggled to hit the deep ball, was under unrelenting pressure. The Eagles’ offensive game plan was inconsistent yet predictable.
“He wanted to try so hard to turn it around for the team,” Dennis Sr. said. “When he was down, he was down a little bit more than, ‘OK, we got to get the next one.’ I think each one hurt him a little bit more.”
Something needed to change offensively. Midseason, that’s a cue for a switch at quarterback. BC went halfway at Syracuse, splitting snaps between Grosel and true freshman Emmett Morehead, a 6-foot-5 Woodside, California, native.
Grosel wasn’t shocked by the decision. He and Morehead are “really, really close,” he said. Grosel understands the special—but raw—talent Morehead possesses. Morehead, who grew up as a baseball player, had really played only two years of football before COVID-19 threw a wrench in his senior season at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
“When you’re thinking of it long term and how crucial my reps were early on in my career and how that shaped me—this is kind of what they wanted to do for Emmett,” he said. “That was the conversation, that was the dialogue.”
Grosel added: “The goal always for me was to be as less of a distraction and as much of a help as I could be.”
Morehead ended up playing 43 snaps in the Carrier Dome, 14 more than Grosel, and completed 6-of-15 passes for 87 yards. After the game, and in the following weeks, Grosel talked to Morehead about how valuable that experience will prove to be.
When Morehead met with the media leading up to BC’s next matchup, it’s annual Red Bandana Game against Virginia Tech, he said that he couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Grosel.
“Obviously, this is his season to shine and to play, and it hasn’t gone the way he’s wanted, but you would never know it,” Morehead said. “He’s been really calm, really humble.
“Someone I really look up to.”
JURKOVEC MADE A SURPRISE return for the Virginia Tech game, and Morehead adopted Grosel’s old role of being ready to step in whenever.
Grosel made it his priority to lend a hand to both quarterbacks. He brought up how he was comfortable being Brown’s right-hand man in the quarterback room two years before. So, for him, the transition wasn’t hard.
Grosel’s attitude didn’t change when he went from backup to starter. Likewise, it didn’t budge when he went from starter to backup. Jurkovec noticed.
“I miss Dennis’ energy, his accountability,” Jurkovec said this summer. “Dennis is somebody who’s very consistent, and you can count on him. You always know what you’re gonna get with him. … He’s a leader.”
Grosel didn’t play a snap in BC's final four games of the season. Jurkovec led the Eagles to bowl eligibility, but BC finished 6-6 after a two-game skid to end the year. Then, for the second season in a row, the Eagles didn’t play their bowl game, this time because of player opt-outs and COVID-19 complications.
It was a disappointing finish to an up-and-down season, a year in which, finally, the Atlantic Division was wide open. Wake Forest won it, dethroning Clemson for the first time since 2014, and Pittsburgh—the Coastal Division champion—won the ACC for the first time in its program history. It was a missed opportunity for a veteran BC team.
Grosel insisted, though, that 2021 made the program stronger. He understands that, in his three playing years, he didn’t contribute to a better win total (BC still hasn’t had an eight-plus-win season since 2009). But Grosel—who wrapped his BC career with 3,067 total yards of offense and 25 total touchdowns—is satisfied with the kind of teammate he was, as well as the culture change he helped usher in during Hafley’s stay.
“I would be the happiest guy in the world if next year or two years or three years down the road, they’re a mainstay in the ACC, and they’re winning big-time bowl games and making a name for themselves,” Grosel said.
IN MAY, GROSEL WAS the football team’s recipient of the Welles Crowther Award, given annually to one student-athlete of every BC varsity program who exemplifies the Jesuit tradition of “men and women for others.”
Crowther was a BC lacrosse alum who died saving more than a dozen lives in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks. He took after his father by wearing a red bandana everywhere he went: to class, on the lacrosse field and, eventually, to work. When the South Tower of the World Trade Center was struck, Crowther wore the bandana around his nose and mouth to protect him from the smoke while he rescued civilians.
It’s a story every BC football player and their parents learn. Actually, the first BC game Laura and Dennis Sr. saw was the Red Bandana Game, which honors Crowther’s sacrifice.
So, when Grosel received the Welles Crowther Award, it came full circle, Dennis Sr. said.
“You can’t even explain the pride that you feel because you know what it means,” Laura said.
Grosel spent his BC career tirelessly trying to be the best teammate he could be. He didn’t need snaps to steer clear of the transfer portal. He didn’t need to be the starter to be a leader. He gave up personal achievement for collective growth.
Grosel stuck around to be the glue for others.
“It was almost like, that’s what this whole experience was about,” Dennis Sr. said.