On Sunday afternoon, midway through the NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I emailed two members of the University of Florida sports information staff and asked for the chance to talk to Will Grier by phone this week.
What I had in mind – about 24 hours before Grier would be suspended for a calendar year for taking a banned substance – was a feel-good piece about the redshirt freshman from Davidson Day. Grier had won Florida’s starting job in September and had already directed the Gators to a 6-0 record and the No. 8 national ranking. He was playing enormously well.
I got back two strikingly similar responses. Grier wasn’t being allowed to do any interviews except brief ones after games, they both said. Coach Jim McElwain is very protective of his quarterbacks, one staffer added.
On Monday afternoon, all that blew up. Grier was suspended for a calendar year for taking a substance banned by the NCAA. Florida is appealing that suspension. By rule, Grier will remain suspended until the appeal is heard – and if he loses, he won’t be able to play until at least halfway through the 2016 college season.
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So much for protection. Coached by his father, Chad Grier, throughout high school and fast-tracked at Florida, Grier found himself standing in front of a roomful of reporters in Gainesville, Fla., on Monday for the wrong reasons.
This was no postgame news conference talking about another touchdown pass. Grier was near tears as he haltingly said:
“So ... I took an over-the-counter supplement that had something in it. And I did not check with the medical staff before taking it. I really hope that people can learn from this, learn from my mistake. And I’m really sorry to everyone, truly sorry.”
So ... I took an over-the-counter supplement that had something in it. And I did not check with the medical staff before taking it. I really hope that people can learn from this, learn from my mistake. And I’m really sorry to everyone, truly sorry.
Florida quarterback Will Grier
Does this mean Grier’s career is over? Of course not. He’s only 20 years old. Julius Peppers was suspended for four games in his rookie year with Carolina under somewhat similar circumstances, and the NFL has worked out pretty well for him.
But what it does mean is that the days of Grier being protected and coddled, of being a knight in shining armor for the Gators – those days are gone.
Even if he wins the appeal, Grier’s reputation is undeniably tarnished. Not irreparably tarnished, but tarnished just the same.
The banned substance in question is unclear – some reports say one thing, some say another. What is clear is that Grier shouldn’t have taken it.
When I wrote a long profile of Grier in December 2013, he told me he weighed 185 pounds. He was a rangy 6-foot-2, dominating suspect competition at Davidson Day. He once threw for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in a single game, an unofficial national record.
Grier left for Florida soon after that, graduating five months early so he could enroll at Florida in time for 2014 spring practice. In the meantime, his two younger brothers started to eclipse him in terms of name recognition.
Nash became one of the most “Vine-famous” people in the world because of his funny six-second video clips. Hayes became such a social media star that he was recruited into a spot on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Meanwhile, Will Grier toiled for more than a year in anonymity, redshirting in Gainesville as the Will Muschamp era imploded. New coach McElwain had to pick a new quarterback, and Grier started 2015 in a heated competition with sophomore Treon Harris.
In an August 2015 story detailing that quarterback battle, The Orlando Sentinel reported that Grier actually showed up at Florida in January 2014 weighing 172 pounds. But by the 2015 preseason – although the school’s website listed him at 201 pounds – Grier actually weighed closer to 215 with seven percent body fat, the newspaper said.
That’s either a 30- or a 43-pound weight gain in about 20 months, depending on which set of numbers you go by. In any case, it’s a whole lot. It’s not unheard of to gain weight as a college freshman, of course, but that’s a big number. As a headline on a blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it a few months ago: “This Florida QB has put on an insane amount of weight.”
So we are left with Grier’s tearful apology, the uncertainty of the appeal and the reality that no matter what happens to Grier, the Gators are more than ready to move on without him. They have a big game against LSU Saturday night. Harris will start.
And Grier? I’m rooting for him. The journey back won’t be easy, but it is far from impossible.
Lots of us face a crisis of our own making at about 20 years old. And lots of us have to realize that no matter how much protection we have been offered throughout our life, it’s time to grow up.