“Without a doubt, coming here has been the best decision I’ve made,” the junior quarterback said. “I’ve felt the biggest family shift in how the team acts and how the coaches hold themselves and how the coaches interact with their players. It’s been incredible.”
Most probably, Noah Grover didn’t foresee the stops on his college football route. Surely, he did not expect to end up in Western Pennsylvania, the furthest he’s ever been from his home in Arizona.
Grover didn’t play football in his junior year of high school. In his senior season, he played a handful of games before breaking his femur at the base of his knee. The setback would effect the path Grover would take over the next three years.
Absent on the radar of major college programs, he elected to go close by to junior college (JUCO).
“I broke [my leg] and [recruiting] kind of just fizzled out for me,” Grover said. “I had a few smaller schools that were reaching out and recruiting me but at that point, my mindset was, like, ‘Okay, I only played six, seven games total. What could I do?’ I just wanted to live up to a potential dream that I always had.”
It’s known, Grover said, specifically with series on streaming services, that JUCO football is a different breed of football.
“I got to really experience that close-up,” Grover said. “At first glance, it’s kind of like everybody is out for themselves, trying to bring themselves a scholarship to get to the next level. It was really cool, too, to not only be in that position, but to also bring the team-level aspect into it.”
For Grover, being at a JUCO school was a lot like having time docked from the beginning of recess. Forced to sit and watch the lively playground. He kept tabs on high school teammates such as Isaiah Pola-Mao, a former Max Preps All-American who now starts at safety for the University of Southern California.
“It’s really tough also to go somewhere and to have to watch your guys, from somewhere else, play and try to fight for their dreams, and still be [JUCO],” Grover said. “That was probably the hardest part for me.”
The most precise description Grover can offer for JUCO football is that it was different. On-field play? Different. Talents? Different. Walks of life? Different.
“You had different guys,” Grover said. “You had guys that didn’t want to do the school part, but they were insane on the field. It was like, if you could just get the school down and get your mentals straight, you could go anywhere you wanted.”
At Phoenix College, Grover completed 85 of his 171 throws, passing for 1,207 yards and nine scores. Yet, off the field, he still had to personally pitch his abilities.
“The thing with JUCO is, you’ve got to be your own advocate,” Grover said. “You just throw emails and stuff to reach out to the coaches. So, I was just throwing my tape out there to every coach in the nation, basically.”
Normally, Grover explained, student-athletes spend two years at a junior college. The University of North Dakota and head coach Bubba Schweigert were the first D-I school to show interest in the signal-caller’s aptitude.
“I spent one [year] just because, I had the mindset going in there that, if I was going to get a chance, or that driving force, or if I felt like I was being called to go somewhere else, that I was going to take that opportunity,” Grover said.
When presented with that prospect, it was difficult for him to think about migrating to North Dakota. Everything on his visit, however, indicated that it was the correct choice.
Others misunderstood his new school as being the state’s other FCS program, which has claimed eight of the classification’s last nine national titles.
“People would always come up to me, ‘Oh, North Dakota State!’ and I was like, ‘Eh, whatever,’” Grover said with a chuckle and a wave. “I spent so much time correcting them and I was like, ‘You know, this is taking up way too much time.’ If I’m not close in contact with you all the time, then it’s whatever.”
North Dakota, as predictable as the sun setting and rising, was a culture shock for Grover. First snowfall was in October. Temperatures plunged into the negatives in the winter.
“It was a whole new world,” Grover said.
Grover quarterbacked the scout team in practice. He saw the field in only one game, the Fighting Hawks’ season opener against Drake. In the smallest of sample sizes, the 6’2” passer completed both of his passes for a total of 11 yards and scampered for a five-yard touchdown.
He built a relationship with his team and also built a relationship with Christ. He was brought into the FCA and would attend meals and bible studies on Thursday nights. But, he realized that he wasn’t in the right place just yet.
“It just ended up not being the case where I was going to stay there,” Grover said. “Coaching problems and stuff like that, it was just time for me to leave.”
Grover logged back into his email and began feverishly sending messages. It took less than a month for him to visit Slippery Rock.
“The biggest thing is, right when I got on the phone with Coach [Neugebauer], I immediately felt a good relationship with him and I understood he was a good guy,” Grover said. “He was just talking about the program and what they value and we were just talking about the offense and what they did last year. Obviously, Roland winning the Harlon Hill [shows] Coach [Neugebauer] knows what he’s doing.”
Jermaine Wynn, he of the fifth most receiving yards in America in 2019, hosted him on winter break, joining him in watching film, drawing on the whiteboard with Neugebauer, and going out to Ginger Hill for dinner and a basketball game.
Grover left the visit with a good feeling. He took another visit to South Dakota Mines. He was going to visit another school in another state. Missouri, maybe? He doesn’t remember. He also had a coach from his JUCO reach out from defending national champion West Florida, but the quarterback room was already full.
The Rock, it was. His mind was made up.