Cal Grubbs is never short of motivation. The Maryville center’s drive to succeed at all costs, along with his ability to block, earned him a scholarship.
Despite offers from SEC programs like Ole Miss and college football playoff semifinalist Cincinnati, the reason Grubbs chose Liberty and coach Hugh Freeze was based on comfort.
“Honestly, they kind of welcomed my family,” Grubbs said. “I mean, I barely had to introduce myself. They already knew who I was. They just made me feel like home.
Grubbs, a three-star prospect, is No. 7 on the Knox News Elite 8, a collection of the top Knoxville-area football prospects chosen by the newspaper for the Class of 2023.
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His motivations can take many forms and he was eager to share a particular source he carries with each shot.
On his right wrist is a blue and red band that reads “Hilinski’s Hope,” a non-profit organization that focuses on mental health awareness and education for student-athletes.
He is named after Tyler Hilinski, a 21-year-old quarterback who killed himself in 2018 just weeks after his second redshirt season at Washington State.
“I love it when people ask me what that means,” he said. “Because we have a lot of things going on behind the scenes that some people just won’t notice. There’s a lot of pressure on you – like constantly – to be your best.
Wearing the Hilinski’s Hope Bracelet sends an invaluable message to all other team members. This responsibility is nothing more than what he is used to when reading from the line of scrimmage.
“As a senior you kind of have a big leadership role there,” he said. “You ask everyone to do what they have to do. You have control over the entire offensive line at this point. You are the one making the calls. I love doing it.
“It’s more than just breaking the ball and blocking the guy in front of you.”
As important as his blocking and on-field football IQ is, Maryville coach Derek Hunt vouched for the elder’s leadership qualities.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Hunt said. “He makes sure that our group stays focused on the attacking side and then also that we give a lot of effort. He has such good body language, great energy. He’s super positive, that’s what I like. his home.
Even with college football on the horizon, Grubbs remains present and doesn’t let his commitment to Liberty cloud his focus for the 2022 season. When asked what he wants to improve and work on this year, individually or not, he maintained a group-oriented mindset.
Throughout spring and summer camps, Grubbs said he felt the rebels’ chemistry was strong. Everyone is present at all training and he does not remember that a single player arrived late.
“My goal is to get us all aligned to be best friends and get really close because that’s how we all work best with each other,” he said.
High school locker room leaders like Grubbs are rare. The value of a committed college player showing the same level of discipline as a younger player still trying to reach that level is not lost on the underclasses.
“He embodies the division so well that I’m prospecting for our young kids,” Hunt said. “DI prospects, they don’t grow on trees, but for our guys, it showed that it’s still high school football, it’s still a team game.”
Ultimately, Grubbs hopes this season ends with a state championship. He was a freshman the last time the program won a state title, but Grubbs wants that sentiment as an everyday starter. Maryville has fallen to eventual champion Oakland State in the Class 6A semifinals the past two seasons.
More than anything else, he wants that feeling for the rest of his teammates so that the winning culture at Maryville can continue beyond his time as a Red Rebel.
“Man, we’re so lucky to have him on our team,” Hunt said.