With a billboard featuring a giant photo of him overlooking Fowler Avenue and his name on numerous preseason award watch lists, it could have been easy for sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe to get lost in his own hype this offseason.
But Grothe hasn’t allowed his newfound fame to distract him from football.
The quarterback was all business when reflecting on the difference between this season and last year- when Grothe had never taken a collegiate snap and was a long way away from the Heisman Trophy watch list.
“The biggest difference for me is having the chance to work with all the receivers and the rest of the offense (in the offseason) and put everything together a little bit more this year,” Grothe said. “But I’m going to work harder then I ever have and I’m going to have to play good week in and week out.”
According to Grothe’s father, Matt Grothe Sr., he has never allowed increased attention to affect his outlook.
“To be honest with you, he just wants to play football,” Grothe Sr. said. “He got a lot of hype in high school and so forth, too. He came to USF and he just wants to win games and make USF better, that’s it.”
So far, Grothe has been doing just that for the Bulls.
The quarterback saw his first collegiate action during last year’s season opener against McNeese State. A redshirt freshman at the time, Grothe relieved injured senior Pat Julmiste and promptly secured the starting role for the rest of the season. In his first appearance, Grothe threw 9-for-13 for 171 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 58 yards and another score, leading the Bulls to a 41-10 win over the Cowboys.
As the season went on, Grothe continued to improve. The Lakeland native led the Bulls to come-from-behind victories in each of the Bulls’ first three games, including an impressive performance against in-state rival UCF. While playing the Golden Knights, Grothe completed 21 of 31 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback also rushed for 77 yards in the 24-17 win and earned Big East Conference Player-of-the-Week honors for his performance.
Grothe’s success came very quickly in his freshman year and, looking back, the sophomore thinks it was his speedy transiton from backup to starter that allowed him to relax and use his raw talent to help USF win.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Grothe said. “I think it was better for me in that way because I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t wondering how I was going to do or anything like that. After I got a few games under my belt and (built) chemistry with the other players, it worked out pretty good.”
Grothe led USF to a 9-4 record and its first bowl victory last season. He also set USF season records for a freshman quarterback in passing yards (2,576), rushing yards (622), total yards (3,198) and rushing touchdowns (9). His season completion percentage of 63.7 is a USF record.
Despite performing extremely well for a freshman quarterback, Grothe couldn’t escape the adversity the inevitable mistakes for any young signal caller. After throwing 14 interceptions last year, he worked hard in the offseason to improve numerous
elements of his game.
“I need to cut down big time on the turnovers,” Grothe said. “I’ve been working on my arm strength and just learning the game more and watching more film and I’m starting to recognize more. (I’m seeing) little stuff that I wouldn’t have seen last year.”
Grothe believes the majority of his turnovers last year were the result of inexperience rather than bad decision-making, and while he understands the need for more conservative play at times, the quarterback also sees the importance of taking a chance here and there.
“There’s nothing wrong with gambling,” Grothe said. “You’re going to have to have big plays to have opportunities to win some of the closer games. It’s just a matter of luck and being in the right time and the right place.”
Whether by luck or will, Grothe has found a way to succeed at every level. At Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, he threw for 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns and ran for 1,250 yards and 15 scores. According to his father, the former Class 4A Player of the Year has always found a way to win.
“He went into little league (football) at 7 years old and played quarterback his first year and you saw it,” Grothe Sr. said. “He was just doing stuff that a seven-year-old shouldn’t be doing. Then he got into high school, and every year I kind of thought that the players he played against would get tougher and tougher. Last year, when he went in for the McNeese State game it was like OK, now you’re playing against men. Let’s see how you do. (It was the) same thing. I mean it just doesn’t seem to change.”
A large reason for Grothe’s success has always been his ability to stay calm under pressure. He displayed the ability numerous times last season while leading six come-from-behind victories. Perhaps his most memorable display of poise under pressure came during the Bulls match-up against then-No. 7 West Virginia. After throwing two interceptions early in the game, Grothe rallied to score two touchdowns (one rushing and one passing) and led the Bulls to a 24-17 upset of the Mountaineers.
“I think instead of getting nervous when the pressure is on, I get more relaxed for some reason,” Grothe said. “I like those situations more. I’d rather be in a close game than a blowout.”
As the Bulls’ season opener against Elon approaches, Grothe knows what is expected of him this season and the sophomore quarterback says he does not feel any pressure despite the hype. The reigning Big East Rookie-of-the-Year sounds confident in his ability to lead USF to victory.
“No (I don’t feel any pressure),” Grothe said. “Sometimes I get some of my friends saying things like ‘don’t forget there’s a thing called the sophomore slump’ and all that, but I don’t believe in all that stuff. If you play well and you work hard, you’ll be fine.”