By Brianne Mallaghan
Special to GoHolyCross.com
When senior wide receiver and Kentucky native Sean Gruber decided to go to college at a school in Massachusetts, he made a deal with his family that they had to promise to visit him from time to time. It was not an easy task for his parents, Tim and Mary, who live in Richwood, Ky. It was not an easy task for his sister Stephanie, who lives in Erlanger, Ky. And it was not an easy task for his brother Brian, who lives in Seattle, Wash. But there is something to be said about family. And there is something to be said about Sean Gruber.
Throughout his high school days at Covington Catholic, Gruber had his sights set on playing Division I college football some day. But a devastating injury his junior year caused him to miss most of the season, and in turn his window of opportunity to be recruited by any Division I schools seemed to have been closed shut.
But Holy Cross did not see it that way. And the Crusader staff welcomed a meeting with Gruber when they were in the Cincinnati area on a recruiting trip.
"I had no idea what Holy Cross was," Gruber said laughing. "I didn't know where it was, what state it was in, what league it was in. And I remember walking out of the meeting with coach Allen thinking that it sounded like a good opportunity, but it was in Massachusetts. That is a long way for a kid who really has not been away from home his whole life."
A long way no doubt, but a journey well worth it. After Gruber did some internet research about the school and talked to some alumni in the Kentucky area, he began to feel better about what would be a 14-hour car ride. "The more I looked into it and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. And finally, Holy Cross just became the choice," he explained.
After working his way up the depth chart his freshman year, Gruber soon became one of the primary targets for quarterback and classmate John O'Neil. The past two seasons, Gruber has led the team in yards per catch (15.0 as a junior, 14.9 as a sophomore), and ranked first in receiving touchdowns (eight) in 2004 and second in receiving touchdowns (five) in 2003. And the comfort zone between the two is just getting stronger.
"We kind of grew up together on the field and it helped to know that not only the quarterback, but my friend is going through the same thing," said Gruber. "Those first two years we were able to establish a strong quarterback-receiver relationship. It just really helped to have someone to talk to about different situations and someone who could relate to what I was going through. And now we just have a connection out there. It's comfortable. The plays are there and he puts the ball right where it needs to be."
"Sean and I have become very close over these four years and I have an enormous amount of respect for him on and off the field," said O'Neil. "You can always count on Sean being there for his friends."
And the Crusaders can count on him on the field as well.
Gruber was recently named to the 2005 preseason All-Patriot League first team by I-AA.org, after a junior campaign in which he started all 11 games and led Holy Cross in receiving yards (720 yards), receiving touchdowns (eight), and yards per catch (15.0 yards per catch). His 720 receiving yards were third-best in the Patriot League and 70th nationally, while his 48 receptions were good for fifth-best in the league and 82nd nationally.
"Sean had a great season in 2004, and if he stays healthy in 2005, he should be an all-league performer," said second year wide receivers coach Chris Pincince.
In 24 career games, he has started 19 times and gone for 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns on 86 receptions, including a 77-yard touchdown against Sacred Heart in the season opener last week.
"Sean is a great guy that you can always count on to be there for you on and off the field," said fellow senior wide receiver and Shrewsbury (Mass.) native, Bryan Anderson. "When I have a question about a certain assignment or about a defensive scheme that we are up against, I always ask him. I know I can go to him anytime if I need anything. He is very confident and always has a great attitude no matter what he is doing."
Even when he is returning punts.
"That's a different beast," he said laughing. "The thing is, when you are a receiver, you have to beat one or two guys who are running along side you and when you are returning punts, you have to beat 11 guys who are running at you -- and they are all coming to kill you."
Fortunately, last season Gruber survived, and averaged 4.4 yards per return, which placed him fourth amoung Patriot League leaders and 88th nationally. "It's a rush. It's a totally different experience that I have never had in football before," he said, referring to the fact that he did not return punts in high school and was not on the depth chart his freshman or sophomore year at Holy Cross.
"The second before the snap, I'm always moving. I can't stay in the same spot. Those butterflies come back. Punt returns ... they are exciting," he said laughing. "Sometimes you can get a big play out of it and help the team in that way and that is what I want to do."
Gruber's popularity and energetic personality extend far beyond the football field. He has earned the admiration and respect of everyone around him, coaches and teammates included. "Sean is a really quality kid and he is the type of person and player that we should all look for in the Patriot League," said Pincince. "He is a great student in the classroom, and he is a leader on our football team. He has a good head on his shoulders and has his priorities in the right spot."
And he attributes all praise to his close-knit family. "My family comes up to a lot of games and it means the world to me to have them there," said Gruber, who enjoyed the company of his parents and siblings after last week's game against Sacred Heart. "They go to a ton of games and it means so much to have them make the trip and make the sacrifice to come up and see me. And I don't expect it at all. I mean, my parents better be there ...," he said jokingly. "But coming from Seattle? Coming from Kentucky? It's pretty special."
Gruber has been described as a teammate, a friend, a role model and a kind and caring human being. But Pincince summed it up nicely. "When all of our players work the way that Sean does in the classroom and on the field, we will be back on top of the Patriot League. We need as many Sean Grubers as we can find," he said.
"I can't say enough about the kid; I feel confident in saying that you will not find a better example of how a student-athlete should carry themselves."
His quarterback could not agree more. "He is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met and he works harder then anyone on the football field and in the classroom," said O'Neil. "Sean is what every student-athlete should be."
There is much to be said about Sean Gruber.