Elevated Expectations

ELEVATED EXPECTATIONS: Grossman a new kind of tight end for Hauck’s Griz

on

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in Skyline Sports’ ELEVATED EXPECTATIONS series profiling Griz football player who are likely to see elevated roles this season for Montana. 

Mike Grossman sits in a red camping chair behind one of the corners of the end zone at Dornblaser Field. He’s staring straight ahead, watching Montana’s fall practice from under the brim of a baseball cap. A pair of basset hounds sprawl at his feet.

Otis and C.J. stir for a minute when a reporter walks up. They circle around each other, a furry yin and yang, tangling their leashes around Mike’s chair and barking at the interruption.

Mike pulls a McDonald’s cheeseburger out of his pocket, rips it perfectly in half, and distributes it to the dogs, who inhale their basset Happy Meals in about five seconds apiece and settle back down, laying head-to-tail next to each other — one looking towards the field, the other disinterestedly away.

“They like watching football,” Mike says, “but they’re chasing dogs. They’d rather be chasing a bunny.”

Mike, just under six feet tall, looks like a bouncer — barrel chest, bald head, big biceps — but talks sotto voce. You have to strain to hear him sometimes, even when his son, redshirt freshman tight end Cole Grossman, dives low to catch a touchdown in the 11-on-11 red zone drills near the end of practice.

That’s been a familiar sight around Dornblaser in the first two weeks of fall camp — nothing that Mike, who drove a fifth-wheel camper from the family’s home in Vancouver, Washington, over to Missoula for a couple weeks to watch fall practice — hasn’t seen before. C

ole Grossman, tall and lanky with curly black hair, has been perhaps the biggest revelation on the fields at Dornblaser so far, working with the starters and seeing plenty of targets. With good speed and hands at 6-foot-4, he’s been the most dangerous receiver on the team for periods as Montana’s fall camp reached two weeks long this weekend.

“We’ve been in no pads for two days but Cole has done a good job,” head coach Bobby Hauck said during the first week of practice. “He’s a hard worker. He’s a good athlete and he’s done some good things.”

Grossman’s breakout heralds an interesting time for tight ends at Montana. Bob Stitt famously eliminated the role in the mid-2010s, moving the existing players at the position to defense or wide receiver.

That made it a big storyline when Hauck took over again in 2018 and started recruiting tight ends again — but the game has changed since the last time Hauck was at Montana.

Montana tight end Cole Grossman, pictured in the spring of 2021 against Portland State/ by Brooks Nuanez

When Pokey Allen and current Griz defensive line coach Barry Sacks recruited Mike Grossman out of Walla Walla Community College to Portland State in the early 1990s, the job description of a tight end was simple to articulate.

“You had to block. You had to catch,” said Mike, who followed Allen and Sacks to Boise State for a year before transferring back to Portland State to finish his career.

That’s increasingly not the case. Players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates started the revolution. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Kyle Pitts followed along. And now most tight ends are now more like wide receivers than offensive linemen.

At 220 pounds, Cole Grossman could be the closest thing to a modern tight end that Hauck has ever had at Montana: spread out across the formation, creating mismatches and catching a lot of passes — ironically, pretty close to how Stitt imagined the role for tight-ends-turned-receivers like Colin Bingham.

“(The tight ends) are one of our younger groups, but they have ability,” Hauck said. “Cole, throughout that group, we have more ability that we have had by a large margin. We are hoping that shows up. Physical maturity has gotta come.”

During his first tenure at Montana, Hauck recruited and developed hulking in-state tight end products Steven Pfahler, Dan Beaudin and Greg Hardy, all three who weighed more than 260 pounds, all three exceptional in-line blockers and all three who got a shot at the NFL.

Cole Grossman during his senior year at Skyview High in Vancouver, Washington/ contributed

Because Cole might be the first-ever fourth-year freshman in the history of Montana football — between a grayshirt in 2018, redshirt in 2019 and COVID in 2020, he’s only played in three games for the Griz and has one career reception — the best place to see proof-of-concept of his athleticism and potential stardom is either at Dornblaser or on Youtube.

Mike taped all of Cole’s games at Skyview High School in Vancouver – football and basketball – and his YouTube page is littered with clips of Cole’s big plays. Like the video aptly titled “Cole Grossman ‘Massive Dunk’”, which Mike sold with the zeal of a street preacher.

Have you seen it? You should check it out.

The highlight lives up to the billing. Cole cuts down the lane, catches a pass, takes off from the volleyball end line in the middle of the paint, meets a defender in midair and yams it down over him with his right hand.

“Ohhhhh my goodness!” exults the announcer. “Okay! Cole Grossman just put that man on a poster!”

Then there are the football highlights, tracked by hard-driving rock music, a couple minutes each of Cole running past and jumping over outmatched high school defensive backs.

Cole played receiver in high school, but Skyview also put him at defensive end on third downs. Some FBS schools got a look at those highlights and figured that he could be a passrusher at that level.

Cole had committed to Montana already, following in the footsteps of Griz O-lineman Skyler Martin, a Skyview alum and one of Cole’s best friends (former Griz All-Big Sky receiver and returner Ellis Henderson also went to Skyview) . But the Grizzlies had to fight to keep Grossman.

One time, Boise State flew out to Vancouver for a visit with the Grossmans. Montana’s coaches heard about it, and the very next day, a couple Griz assistants were at the Grossmans’ house.

“Skyler went to the same high school as me and he said, it’s great out here and they want to win football games,” Cole said. “So that’s all I want to do.”

He grayshirted because of grades in 2018. Montana moved him to defense in 2019, and he played against Oregon in UM’s third game of the season before missing the rest of the year with injuries.

Montana tight ends coach Bryce Erickson/ contributed

Grossman played defense only situationally in high school and always considered himself a receiver. Even as a defensive end, he would work out before and after practices, running routes with quarterback Cam Humphrey, another Washington guy (Issaquah), and needling the offensive coaches.

Hey, do you need a tight end? Are you moving me to offense yet?

“No offense,” Grossman said, “but I’m not a big defensive guy.”

Montana moved him back to offense in the middle of 2019. The Griz might have found their new tight end by doing so.

“Have you ever seen anybody do that? Move from defense back to offense? That never happens,” Mike said, dragging his chair and the dogs behind the goalposts to watch the kickers at the very end of practice.

“It was really cool to be back, move back to offense,” Cole said. “It’s not a path that every guy takes, but I think it’s helped me to mature a lot and learn a lot, and also just get myself in the program and be a team player. … I’m a (starter) right now, and I want to try my best to keep it, and if I go down, I want to compete to get it back.”

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

Recommended for you