Rex Grossman - Gator makes good case for more than QB job

Friday, December 7, 2001

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sitting in a film room with Steve Spurrier, Rex Grossman realized how good a quarterback he could be at Florida.

The hardest part was getting Spurrier to believe it, too.

Grossman took a winding path to Florida, then to becoming Spurrier's starter, and finally to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist in this, his sophomore year.

He's trying to become the third Heisman winner at Florida -- following Spurrier, and Danny Wuerffel, who won it in 1996, his senior season.

"It's hard to compare careers," Wuerffel said. "At different times you are doing different things. But obviously at this point of his career, he's playing phenomenal. He's got more control, obviously, than I did."

A high school star in Indiana, Grossman was more of a regional phenomenon than a national one. Instead of being sought out by the Gators, who don't pay much attention to the Midwest in recruiting, Grossman had to sell himself to them.

He showed up at Spurrier's office one day in February 1998 with his game tapes in hand. Spurrier, who happened to be in the office instead of on the golf course, got the word from his assistants that the baby-faced kid with the strong arm was worth talking to.

They watched tape together. Spurrier uses the tape of Wuerffel's 39 touchdown passes during 1996 as an instructional video of sorts. Grossman watched it and quickly saw what his future could be.

"All the receivers were just wide open," Grossman said. "I was thinking, this is the place I want to play."

By the time he had arrived back home in Bloomington -- with a visit to Florida State and a vacation in Colorado squeezed in -- Grossman had a handwritten note from Spurrier in his mailbox, offering him a scholarship.

But there's no such thing as a sure thing at Florida.

Last season, Grossman's name was barely mentioned when Spurrier unfurled his customary list of possible starters. Jesse Palmer and incoming freshman Brock Berlin got the attention.

As the season went on, Grossman surpassed them both, thanks to his strong arm, good decision-making and a disposition that allows him to take Spurrier's criticism without letting it overwhelm him.

"I think you definitely have to adapt to a person when you're playing under him," Grossman said. "I think I've done that for the most part. I'm not going to really elaborate what I've done, but mostly you've just got to realize he's the boss and stay confident."

Of course, winning the job once doesn't guarantee anything for the future. Spurrier pitted Grossman and Berlin against each other again this preseason, and Grossman won the job easily, and held it all year.

That makes him a rarity in at least two instances: Not only did Grossman start all 11 games at Florida -- the last quarterback to do that since Wuerffel -- he also is one of the few players to contend for college football's highest honor who wasn't even sure if he would start at the beginning of the season.

"I would say Rex is a combination of a very, very good passer, who has a lot of good receivers and also opportunity," Spurrier said. "It's all three of those things. Obviously, we pitch it around quite a bit so he gets a chance."

Skeptics believe Grossman is a product of the system, and that most any talented quarterback who played a full season at Florida -- which is half the trick itself -- would put up his kind of numbers.

Regardless of the reason, the numbers have been impressive. He has thrown for 3,896 yards, surpassing Wuerffel's single-season record. Grossman surpassed 300 yards in 10 of 11 games. He has 34 touchdown passes and is the highest-rated passer in the country.

The stats have already earned him honors as the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year and The Associated Press national player of the year.

One title he won't have this season is that of SEC champion.

Florida's 34-32 loss to Tennessee last week kept the Gators out of Saturday's SEC title game, meaning Grossman won't be in Atlanta, but in New York, on hand for the ceremony in which he could become the first sophomore to win the award.

Grossman took a vicious beating against Tennessee, but stood in the pocket and completed 33 of 51 passes for 362 yards. He drove the Gators to the touchdown that could have tied the game, had his 2-point conversion pass not fallen incomplete.

Overall, it was a brave effort that sure seemed worthy of the Heisman. But Grossman, still discouraged about the loss this week, agrees with the conventional wisdom, that the loss may have cost him the award.

"You'd like to think the Heisman Trophy winner pulls that game out," Grossman said. "I don't think I had a bad game, but I don't think I had an unbelievable game. If you're going to give someone the Heisman, you'd think they'd be good enough to win that game, and obviously, we weren't."

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