IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Charlie Gross was a sixth-grader and a defensive lineman, weighing in at 181 pounds, when he registered to play football with the High Ridge Chargers nearly six years ago.
The Rogers Park resident had hoped to play with and against other sixth-graders in the Chicagoland United Youth Football League.
One slight problem, weighing in at … one pound: Gross needed to weigh no more than 180 pounds in order to battle with and against boys in his class.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, I have to compete on football fields with huge, older kids,’ ” says Gross, now a 6-foot-5, 280-pound offensive lineman at Loyola Academy.
But that turned out to be a blessing rather than a ominous undertaking.
“Freshman year, I was really nervous at the beginning of the season,” Gross recalls. “But then I realized I had played against bigger guys in several seasons. Looking back, those experiences in High Ridge games definitely prepared me well for Loyola football.”
Gross shifted from defensive lineman to offensive lineman in the seventh grade. In 2015, his sophomore year, he played a grand total of one down on varsity — near the end of a Class 8A second-round victory against Stevenson.
LA’s Ramblers dismantled the Patriots 49-0 on that November day.
“I was confused in the huddle,” Gross says. “I turned to one of my O-line mates and asked, ‘What’s my assignment [at right tackle]?’ It was a third down. We ran a run play. My teammate told me to take an inside step. We gained two yards, maybe three.
“That was a whole new feeling, getting to play football at that level and at that point in a season.”
LA captured its second state championship in school history later that month (against Marist, in DeKalb) and then reached another Class 8A state championship game last fall, this time against Maine South in Champaign.
LA and its starting right tackle, Charlie Gross, returned to Wilmette with a state runner-up trophy.
“Frustration,” Gross — who will play left tackle for the Ramblers this fall — says of his team’s predominant feeling following the 27-17 loss. “I learned something on that night; we all did. I learned how to deal with frustration, how to keep cool. It’s important, in a moment like that, to be determined to do what you need to do to get back up. What’s great about playing football at Loyola, with people from all over, is the establishment of great relationships with my teammates.
“Those are important,” he adds. “To continue the success of Loyola’s football program is important, too.”
If LA’s offensive line protects the quarterback as effectively as it did last fall, look for another season of double-digit wins under the guidance of Ramblers coach John Holecek in 2017.
Former LA quarterback Tommy Herion passed the ball 286 times and rushed the ball 66 times last year.
Times he was sacked: twice.
“Charlie’s pass blocking, along with the rest of our line, was phenomenal,” says Herion, a preferred walk-on QB at the University of Iowa. “He run blocks well, too. Watch film of him; he’s the one blocking guys five to 10 yards back [downfield], giving his running backs giant holes.”
In a Class 8A state quarterfinal at Huntley last fall, Herion got forced out of the pocket and immediately experienced an uh-oh moment in the vicinity of a menacing defensive end. But Gross turned into a gigantic No. 2 pencil in the nick of time and erased the Red Raider in LA’s 24-0 victory.
“That guy never saw Charlie, who destroyed him,” Herion says. “It was amazing how quickly Charlie got in the backfield to protect me on that play.”
Gross’ best time in the 40 is 5.25; his best clocking in the shuttle is a 4.6. He received his first college scholarship offer from Ball State last December.
The stamp of approval thrilled him — and “lightened” him.
“Big weight off me, knowing college coaches wanted me to play for them,” Gross says.
More offers came. Football coaches from Western Michigan, New Mexico, Indiana State, Holy Cross, Western Kentucky, Ohio University, Northern Illinois, Buffalo, Toledo, Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Fordham University also liked Gross.
Gross verbally committed to Fordham, located in New York City, on June 21. The Rambler wanted to be a Ram.
Fordham went 8-3 with a 5-1 mark in the Patriot League last fall.
“Pretty cool,” Gross says of Fordham’s setting. “I also was impressed with the team’s offensive line coach [Tommy Galt]. “He was real honest with me, which was important to me. He told me, ‘It’ll be hard, playing college football, but I know you can do it.’ ”
Have a hard time picturing prep football players doing yoga on a regular basis? Gross no longer does. He and many of his teammates attended yoga sessions on offseason Wednesdays and Sundays in the school’s wrestling room, beginning in 2016.
Mrs. Pu Wu-Biddle, of LA’s technology department, introduced the discipline to the Ramblers’ gridders, who no longer only associate posing with sitting still for a photographer.
“It’s good to be quick off the line and aggressive,” Gross says. “Thanks to yoga, I’m now more flexible. [Biddle] has been great; she goes around the room, while we’re posing, and gives helpful one-on-one instruction. She told us we’d feel tight the day after the first session, and she was right.”
Charlie be nimble.
Charlie be quick.
You want those qualities in a massive lineman.
“He’s big and has good feet,” Holecek says. “He’s also unassuming, but he plays mean at times. Charlie has good potential and could make a big difference at Fordham.”
Notable: Reigning Class 8A state runner-up Loyola Academy (13-1 in 2016) opens its football season with a road game against Phillips on Aug. 26 (7:15 p.m.) at Gately Stadium in Chicago. Phillips reached a Class 4A state semifinal and finished with an 11-2 record last fall.