When Razohnn Gross' football career ended abruptly last year in a dismissal, wrestling coach Scott Goodale barely had to think about it.
Gross was an individual repeat champion as a New Jersey high-school wrestler. As a defensive lineman, he was the heart of multiple championships on a roster that included more than a dozen power-five prospects and multiple NFL talents.
At a crossroads in 2012, Gross chose a football career over wrestling and committed as a preferred walk-on to coach Kyle Flood. He lost his spot last season in one of many off-field transgressions for the program.
Six months later, Goodale added an exciting third competitor to his heavyweight competition.
“We would always ask coach Flood, and coach Flood really encouraged him to wrestle but he wanted to try to make football work,” Goodale said. “When all of that stuff went down and he asked for a second chance, I was like 'absolutely.' We need big guys. Let's do it.”
Gross received a probation after he was charged with participating in an assault in April of 2015. He returned to Rutgers as a student, and that was more than enough for a second chance.
“We've done our dialogue and we've talked to all of the right people on university campus,” Goodale said. “I knew him, the real him. I knew him through the high-school process in recruiting him. I just loved his personality. Obviously you like his athletic ability, but you don't know. When you take three years off from wrestling, you don't know. He's bought in, man. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Goodale recruited Gross out of high school, where he got to know the star heavyweight and defensive lineman on a personal level.
“We recruited all of his teammates, so of course he would be involved,” Goodale said. “We had Luis Gonzalez, Sam Cali, who is no longer with us. He passed away. Razohnn was on that team. Whenever those guys would come down, he had decided to flat-out play football. We had a great relationship when he was here. You never shut that off because you never know.”
Gross joined the program in the offseason, and in less than six months, is officially back into “wrestling shape.” The elite high-school wrestler at Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep won 127 matches and two state titles in high school.
In a three-horse race for Billy Smith's vacated heavyweight spot, Gross is “right in the thick of it.”
“I think Ralphie Normandia is very good. And Marc McDonald was also a football player at Monmouth. We've got three guys that can wrestle. Razohnn has made the biggest jumps. He seems really dedicated to this. I wouldn't be shocked if he ends up being the guy.”
The irony should Gross become “the guy,” his home debut would be against Princeton from High Point Solutions Stadium.
“He's always an inspiring person, so it will be fun to see how he does on the mat this year,” said 184-pound Nicholas Gravina, who wrestler three miles away from Don Bosco at Northern Highlands Regional. “You can ask him, I was on him every day telling him, 'if you ever want to come back to wrestling, we're right here.'”
Goodale does not fear second chances even after a risk on Ohio State transfer Andrew Campolattano did not pay off. The contagiousness of Gross' work ethic and attitude alrtered Goodale's exercise schedule and the junior is all in.
“He's a pleasure to be around,” Goodale said. “I joined their lifting group just so I could be around him in the morning. He charges me up. He's got such a good personality. I just love being around him as much as possible. I think our team really has fed off him. He brings in a little football mentality. He keeps it loose and fun.”
Scouting Gross, Goodale sees major potential despite a three-year absence from the sport.
“He's a big guy that moves really, really well,” Goodale said. “Where he's come from in the middle of summer to today is amazing. He's not only in great shape. He's in wrestling shape now. He's already a two-time wrestling state champ, so he knew how to wrestle but he's gotten a lot better in four or five months and he's just going to continue to improve.”