Perseverance, family support pay off for Ravens' top pick

Grubbs blocks out adversity

May 06, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun Reporter

Freshman year at Auburn could have been the effective end of Ben Grubbs' football career.

Like many small-town prep stars, he'd been the alpha dog on any field he'd ever played on - big enough to squash his strongest foes, quick enough to catch his swiftest.

But when he reached college, everything changed. He couldn't learn Auburn's complicated defensive sets. He felt uncomfortable playing from a down position instead of on his feet as a linebacker. Good grades in the classroom didn't come as easily as they had at Elmore County High.

One night, a despondent Grubbs called his high school coach, Travis Pearson. Pearson's wife handed him the phone with a worried look.

"I'm struggling," Grubbs said.

"You've got to stick with it," Pearson told him. Remember who Ben Grubbs is, he said. Remember the kid who never minded working for his success, who followed his brother through long weight-lifting sessions as early as junior high.

"Momma, it's not working out," Grubbs would say in daily calls home to tiny Eclectic, Ala. His mother, Deborah, who raised Ben and his brother while working as a mail processor 35 miles away, offered even simpler advice - pray. If he couldn't find answers by reading scripture, she added, he should go to Auburn's chaplain.

"It's hard to put into words because I wouldn't say I was looking for anything in particular," Grubbs said. "It's just the belief of knowing that when you put yourself in God's hands, things will work out. You may not know how exactly, but that's what faith is."

Football salvation came in the form of a switch to offense. Grubbs first impressed coaches with his blocking at tight end. Then he wowed them by zooming past more experienced players to start at left guard for a 13-0 team as a redshirt sophomore. Grubbs earned his business degree in four years and in his fifth, he established himself as the consensus best guard prospect in the land. The Ravens selected him 29th overall in last weekend's NFL draft and believe that Grubbs, 6 feet 3 and 315 pounds, could start right away.

Like many successful athletes, Grubbs, 23, believes his eventual success was rooted in overcoming failure. "That was really the beginning of my career," he said of his freshman year. "I don't think it can get any worse than that."

Grubbs' ability to turn back to his basic nature bodes well for his future in Baltimore, say those who've known him longest.

"I talked to him about this for an hour the other day and I told him you're going to a bigger city with brighter lights, but you're still Ben Grubbs," Pearson said. "You don't have to change that. And I think he knows."

Said Auburn strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall: "He was raised right. He's the kind of kid who will just come in every day and do what he needs to do. That might sound too good to be true, but he's one of those players you get now and again."

Eclectic upbringing

Ben Grubbs grew up with his mother and brother on a 10-acre patch of land in Eclectic.

Natives are used to explaining their town's name, which came from a founder who had pursued an eclectic course of study in school. With 1,037 residents, it's no metropolis.

"Yes, there is only one stoplight," Deborah Grubbs said with a hearty laugh.

Not that Eclectic is barren. You can eat barbecue at Old South or Cotton's. People come from all over to buy fabric at the Cloth Barn.

It felt more rural in the days when Grubbs' ancestors harvested cotton and wheat from the flat landscape. Elmore County is now one of the fastest growing areas of Alabama. Families are moving from Montgomery in search of safe, affordable neighborhoods and solid schools. New subdivisions have sprung up.

Nonetheless, teenagers in search of a mall or movie theatre must drive 35 miles to Montgomery or 50 miles to Auburn. Fun around Eclectic means conversation at a friend's house or over barbecue at Lake Martin. After school or a Friday night game, the older kids gather at the Kwik Shop gas station to socialize.

"It's Alabama man, the fresh air, the nice view," said Grubbs' older brother, Cedric. "It's a small town and there isn't a whole lot going on, so we had to stay outside and use our imaginations. I guess that turned out pretty well."

When Ben was very young, the Grubbs family lived in Georgia, where his father was stationed at Fort Benning. But his dad died unexpectedly after developing a blood clot in his leg when Ben was 5.

He was young enough that the loss didn't hit him as hard as his mother or brother, who is two years older. But Deborah remembered that her son grasped her leg tightly whenever she dropped him off at kindergarten. "I think he was afraid that I might never come back either," she said.

Grubbs remembers watching his mother cry without understanding the reason.

He said to her recently, "Raising us was hard, wasn't it, Momma?"

Yes, she replied. She'd given up almost everything else to focus on the boys.

"She means pretty much everything to me," Grubbs said.

Growth spurt

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.