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Grindey: the rugby player turned HS football coach turned star Bulldog backer

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 1, 2023 in Football

Upon high school graduation, Michael Grindey found himself on the Creighton University Rugby Football Club because he “enjoyed the violence and the tenacity” of the sport and because he liked “being able to hit people.” A September 2018 Facebook post from the Creighton club team announced Grindey as the team’s “forward of the match.” Though a native of Chandler, Ariz., Grindey was meant for such a life sparring on the playing fields of the Midwest, where the leaves turn vibrant colors and where the ground becomes frozen like rock.

Grindey is the type of football guy who welcomes brutally cold winters and can’t wait for the next big bone-crunching tackle that inspires a wave of energy to run through himself and his teammates. Arizona is nice, but this is where his roots are.

“I was coaching high school football in Arizona and I was looking to get back to Nebraska somehow,” Grindey explained. “I found small-town Midwest Concordia Nebraska and met with Coach (Patrick) Daberkow. I think the biggest thing was we saw eye-to-eye on our goals and what we wanted to do with the program. I was really excited to be part of it. He’s a man of God. I look at Coach Daberkow and I see the love of Christ poured out toward our team. That was very attractive to me as a young Christian myself. I wanted to grow in my faith and play for an elite football team.”

Born in Omaha, Grindey attended Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, where his parents Jim and Julie, moved the family. Michael has two brothers, John and Patrick. His father Jim graduated from Creighton and his mother was later employed by the school. So when it came time to choose a college destination, Michael wanted to go back. This wasn’t necessarily how he thought things would go – he’ll turn 24 years old before this football season ends – but he’s glad he’s here now. The First Team All-GPAC linebacker piled up 92 tackles in 2022 and stands out as a leader within Coach Daberkow’s program.

The word ‘outgoing’ is one you’ll often hear attached to Grindey. He joked with members of the media back in July that “I’m super loud” and that you’ll “probably hear me before you see me.” Yes, No. 40 is someone who will command attention. He’s a talker, but he’ll walk the walk.

Grindey has certainly won over Defensive Coordinator Corby Osten, who will count upon Grindey to help slow down defending national champion Northwestern in the season opener. Says Osten, “He talks to the seniors, he talks to the coaching staff, he talks to the offensive guys and he talks to the freshmen. He’s always willing to have a conversation. He’s very personable. He’s just a genuine dude and really authentic. It’s who he is. He’s very real.”

The path to success for Grindey has been one with twists and turns. He spent two years playing rugby at Creighton and a year away from college. During that year, he coached high school football in taking after his father. That opportunity seemed to rekindle the desire Grindey had to put back on the helmet and the pads. He wanted to go back to Nebraska, where his brothers had relocated for their own collegiate pursuits. It wasn’t going to be Creighton this time. Michael was going to find a place in Nebraska to play football. As he put it, “When I was in Arizona and it was November, I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and not a flannel and jeans, it kind of upset me.”

As Grindey recalled of his recruiting visit, “I remember driving there and eating lunch at the café in Seward and I just fell in love with it. There’s nothing better than smalltown college football. I wanted to come back to Nebraska and be close to my brothers. I love the Midwest. I actually like the cold. I like the fall. We don’t really have that in Arizona. I fell in love with Seward and Concordia.”

Grindey arrived at Concordia in the fall of 2021 and earned immediate playing time. Naturally, Grindey was going to be overshadowed at the linebacker position by All-American Lane Napier, the leading tackler in the history of the GPAC conference. That was fine with Grindey, who could play off Napier and observe one of the school’s all-time greats. Unfortunately, that first season as a Bulldog was cut short by injury. Grindey finished with 17 tackles in five games while still waiting to burst onto the scene.

His time was coming. Osten and the coaching staff had an idea of what was in store. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound football-aholic became a tackling machine. He registered 27 tackles over the season’s first two games and never relented. Grindey ranked near the top of the GPAC with an average of 9.2 tackles per game. In Concordia’s 3-3-5 defensive alignment, Grindey has the freedom to simply run to the football and make plays. He’s willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him.

“He’s all in,” Osten said. “It’s refreshing to have someone like him who’s extremely coachable. He might want to know why, but he’ll come in and talk about it. In the moment, he’ll trust you and he’ll go and do it as hard as he can do it. The effort level he does things is different from a lot of people. He’s all effort all the time. He loves to play football. Going to practice is fun for him. He loves practice and going fast at practice.”

In interviews, Grindey will exude his infectious personality, but he also has a way of speaking like someone who is already a coach. He’s not trying to get too far ahead of himself. He might want to crack that triple-digit tackle number this season, but he’d never say it publicly. He wants to make this season successful from a team perspective.

“We’re just taking things one day at a time,” Grindey said back in the middle of August. “The next step is film this afternoon. It’s having a great film session this afternoon and having a great practice this afternoon. We just continue to take steps one at a time. We just had a scrimmage and I think that went pretty well. We’re excited about our game against Northwestern.”

One day he likely will coach a team of his own. The experience he’s had in Nebraska has prepared him for whenever that opportunity comes about. Grindey even spent this summer working as a strength and conditioning intern within the University of Nebraska football program.

“I had the honor to work with Coach Cory Campbell and Coach Matt Rhule this summer,” Grindey said. “That was a lot of fun. I think it revitalized by love for football and my love for coaching. I’m just excited to get back out on the field and keep playing.

“I would love to coach college football. That’s kind of the plan. There were a lot of cool connections made there. I coached high school football for a year and was in their weightroom coaching. I really miss that. It really brought that passion back. It was just cool to see the way things were run. It was a really cool opportunity to be part of.”

Talk about cool – that word describes Grindey’s journey to this point. He’s the type of player and person that Daberkow and his staff seek on the recruiting trail. They’ll be searching for the next ‘Michael Grindey story’ in the years to come.

Says Daberkow, “I don’t know of any story that is quite like Grindey’s. We don’t have any other 23- or 24-year-olds – he might be 26 by now. He’s got an awesome story. God brought him here.”

Grindey would agree with that statement. Added Grindey, “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do so I went home to Arizona for a year and worked and coached high school football. That’s when I rediscovered my love for football. I pretty much ended up walking onto Coach Daberkow’s doorstep and saying, ‘Hey, I haven’t played in four years, but I’d love to play.’ Rugby was great at Creighton. I loved playing rugby, but I’m really glad to be playing football.”