Saga Tuitele has a unique perspective on the task of neutralizing Sullivan Grosz.
Cal Poly’s co-offensive coordinator, Tuitele coaches the No. 15 Mustangs’ offensive line and sees what the junior defensive tackle, No. 94 on the roster, does to disrupt blocking schemes.
“His run-to-pass reaction time is amazing,” Tuitele said. “In the summer, I hated blocking him because he knew when it as a run and when it was a pass.
“One of my buddies, an O-line coach, called me up, and he said, ‘Man, that 94, where did you guys find him?’ I said, ‘You’d never guess. He was a linebacker.’ ”
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That’s right, one of the most potent interior linemen in the Big Sky Conference has only been playing the position for a few years.
At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Grosz played middle linebacker and tight end at Fresno’s San Joaquin Memorial High, racking up more than 100 tackles each in his junior and season seasons for the Panthers.
Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh knew that Grosz, who’d made a campus visit to Nevada that recruiting season, would be a better fit on the Mustangs’ line with his unique combination of size and speed.
“You can be a fairly fast linebacker, a pretty fast defensive end or an extremely quick, fast defensive tackle,” Walsh said. “And with his quickness at 280 pounds, along with being a 400-pound bench press guy, it’s pretty much the whole package.
“And he does other things that maybe don’t end up with him getting the credit, but they disrupt.”
Up to 280 pounds, Grosz leads Cal Poly (5-0, 3-0 Big Sky) in tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and fumble recoveries. As the lone returning starter on a defensive line that lost eight players from last season’s team, Grosz was picked as a team captain and as a true unsung hero, his play opens up opportunities for others to shine.
While it’s becoming more common for high school linebackers to make the transition to defensive end in college, it’s still remarkable that Grosz made such a smooth transition to the interior defensive line, where he has played in every game since the start of his redshirt freshman season in 2010.
Now, he’s one of the most experienced and confident players, and his role on the team is as important as anyone’s.
“Becoming a captain, I’ve kind of taken on that role of leadership,” Grosz said. “I’m not trying to do it too much, but when it’s needed I’ll speak up, talk to guys when they need a little bit of help.
“You’ve got to always stay on top of it. For me, I have trouble when I have bad days because I especially can’t have bad days.”
They have been few and far between. In his first full season as a starter in 2011, Grosz was all-Great West Conference honorable mention after leading the Mustangs with 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
He’s heard his name called many times this season, too. Grosz leads the defensive line in tackles, ranking sixth on the team with 24 stops. He’s had 3.5 tackles for loss. He and Wisconsin transfer defensive end Jake Irwin are tied with three hurries apiece. Grosz has recovered two fumbles, forced another and is the only Cal Poly player to block a kick, a pivotal field goal attempt at North Dakota.
“There’s no question he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Sky,” Walsh said. “The way he plays, he’s very disruptive to a lot of offenses.”
The spearhead of the Mustangs’ run defense, Grosz is one big reason why teams with a size advantage over Cal Poly have been unable to dominate with their running games.
Though Grosz has just one sack this season, it’s often noticed that his play allows for others to also shine. Those types of plays might also be responsible for the weight gain part of his transition from linebacker.
“I don’t mind at all,” Grosz said. “We have tons of plays where I’ll influence outside, and a D-end will come in and get a hurry or a good hit or knock down a screen or something. I love that. If they get a sack, it’s called a burrito sack. So, they owe you a burrito the next day. And when I go to Chipotle, I get this huge burrito.”