Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Red & Purple Interview: SOU's Dusty McGrorty

Welcome back to the 4th edition of the Red and Purple Interview. The idea behind the R&P Interview is to not only speak with Wildcats but also speak with Wildcat opponents of the past that any 'Cat fan will remember with just a mention of their name. Dusty McGrorty is one such player. From 2000-2003 he was the most feared runner in the Pacific Northwest and in the NAIA. I caught up with the former Raider and talked about SOU's great playoff run from 2001-2002, the Linfield/SOU series, and his time with the St. Louis Rams. I can't thank Dusty enough for taking part. Read on!

(Wildcat11) Hello Dusty, The first thing I would like to say is that you had an historic career. You're a three time NAIA All-American (twice 1st team). You shattered the Northwest Small College (NAIA, DII, DIII) record for career yards (5,414), career touchdowns (75), carries (983), while having a career 5.5 yards per carry avg. When you first came out of Warrenton (Or.) and arrived in Ashland did you have any idea that you were going to rack up this type of career? What do you attribute to the success you had at SOU as an individual?

(Dusty McGrorty) First off, I just wanted to play ball. I wanted to carry the football! For me, there wasn’t a better feeling than getting the football in your hands and trying to pick and plow your way through a defense. By the way, Linfield never recruited me. I had no clue that I was going to even come close to breaking records. I just wanted to establish myself as a starting tailback at SOU, and try to fill the shoes of my good buddy Griff Yates. What motivated me as student and player is that I was told that I wasn’t big enough and fast enough to play at that level by a high school coach. The way that I was coached in high school was so different, we were almost put down and told we were no good. I guess they thought that would motivate us. I arrived at SOU with Coach Jeff Olson, and was amazed by how I was encouraged right off the bat. He told me that I had the talent and the skills to be a starting back at SOU. That was the best thing for me to hear. Someone thinks I can do it other than my mom and dad. So basically, I wanted to prove to some people that a small kid from a 2A school can do it. It also helped that I had a great coach at SOU, who encouraged me every time I stepped on the field.

(WC11) I’d like to talk about your 2001 season (sophomore year). The Raiders really did have a stellar team that year. The only blemish on your regular season was a controversial defeat up at PLU (48-38). Besides that hiccup, the 2001 team was really clicking headed into your first round playoff game. McKendree came to Ashland and you guys just blow the doors off of the Bearcats (54-10). Did you know what to expect that game or was it a little surprising you rolled them so bad? Can you recall what the feeling was like at Raider Stadium that day with the first SOU playoff win since 1987?

(DM) The game at PLU was a heart breaker for me because we moved the ball up and down the field, but the refs just would not give us a break. Anyone who watched that game would know who the better team was that year. We didn’t know what to expect with McKendree. We thought they had an awesome rushing attack and a great defense. This was the first time we had seen another NAIA opponent who was ranked, so we were definitely a bit nervous. We started off with the Raider ground attack and just got our rushing game going early. Our running game always opened up our passing game in 2001, with the help of Travis Mari, our phenomenal quarterback that year. We were playing that game like it was our last game we were ever going to play. We definitely stepped up our level in the playoffs. When that buzzer went off in the 4th quarter, we felt like there wasn’t a team who could beat us. We had just beaten the Bearcats so badly, they didn’t want to play anymore. There DB’s were starting to cower in the 4th quarter when our backs broke through their linebackers. They didn’t want to hit us anymore. The crowd was so fired up about bringing Carrol College to town. Nobody thought the Raiders were going to be beaten at home. We had the biggest turnouts at the playoff games. It was the best feeling seeing the crowd screaming, hollering, and the stands filled.

(WC11) The following week you hosted Carroll College in the quarterfinals in what came to be known at SOU as the “Snow Bowl”. Six inches of snow covers the field just hours before the game. It was a low-scoring affair until the 4th quarter where SOU and Carroll would trade leads 3 times before the Saints would hold off your Raiders on the last drive of the game for a 16-13 win. I know it stinks to recall tough losses but can you give us the details on the match-up and of the action that day? I know a question that had to be in the minds of your fans was, “ how big a part did that snow storm have in slowing down your great offense?” Did that storm changed the offensive game plan that day?

(DM) I hate talking about this game, so I’ll keep this one short. I woke up that morning feeling the best I’ve ever felt. My roommate Toby Walker (DB) says, “go look outside”. I went outside and there was snow covering everything. I thought we were in Montana. We showed up for pre-game walk through and Coach Olson said “Dusty you need to try this dry hands stuff”. I knew they were worried about getting the running game going. We had to change the game plan about mid-way through the first quarter. We tried pounding the ball up the middle and basically just wearing them down like we always do. The traction and cutting ability was very limited that day. We never established the running game. I looked at Travis and said “this one’s up to you, it’s on your shoulders now. I’ll block all day for you”. That was all it took for Travis to step it up and bring us into the game with the short passes. We held on and we were so close. If that would have been a dry field, it would have turned out different. I really believe you would have seen the Raiders holding the National Championship. No excuses though, we lost.

(WC11) 2002 rolls around and again the Raiders have a great season and a great team. SOU reaches an all-time high of a #2 NAIA ranking, you have six All-Americans on the roster and look to have what you want when you visited Carroll in the NAIA quarterfinals for a rematch after defeating Montana-Western (30-12) the week before.

(DM) Everyone was pretty excited about the 2002 season, especially coming off of the 2001 season. Returning 6 All-Americans was huge for us. This was going to be our year for revenge. We meet Carroll College again in the quarters. This is what everyone wanted. This game was a heart breaker for us.

(WC11) Everything looks to be going great at Carroll. You lead the whole game and you’ve racked up 158 yards and two touchdowns and are leading 31-14 going into the 4th quarter. However, Carroll’s 4th quarter magic rears it’s ugly head again and they run off 21 straight to pull out a 35-31 win. Carroll would go on to win their 2nd straight NAIA title. What happened during that 4th quarter to allow Carroll to come back? Was it turnovers, field position, etc?

(DM) This is the hardest game for me to talk about. The game was in our hands the up until the fourth quarter. We dominated that team up and down the field all day. It was an icy, hard surface and wasn’t very fun to play on. Very limited cutting ability, it was just like the year before. To make a long story short, we had some problems with celebrating early. I was so mad when guys were dancing around on the sidelines like we had just won the game. The defense started to soften up and Carroll made three 4th and long conversions. It was amazing on their part. Offensively we just weren’t moving the ball like we were in the 1st three quarters. We should have had a couple first downs that may have run a lot more time off the clock. There were a lot of things that we could have done that game in the 4th quarter that weren’t done. Clearly in my mind we were a better team. Some of the guys just decided to celebrate and relax a little bit, and that’s when Carroll took the momentum. They went on to win the National Title!

(WC11) Is there any doubt in your mind that if you were able to get past Carroll in 2001 or 2002 that SOU might have won at least one, if not back-to-back, NAIA titles?

(DM) There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we would have been National Champions for sure in 2002. For 2001 I’m almost positive that we would have won it that year, too. If you look at the way Carroll ran through the teams they had after us, they were almost blowouts. I talked to Casey Fitzsimmons from Carroll who was a tight end, and he told me that we were the toughest team that they played against both years. We were also the most feared team to play from what their coaches told the team. Those words make you feel really good, but it doesn’t make a difference if you’re not winning to me.

(WC11) Now since this is a Linfield fans site so let’s talk ‘Cats vs. Raiders. For 16 straight years the ‘Cats and Raiders have hooked up. While most fans would say that Western Oregon vs Southern Oregon are more intense rivals, I feel that the continuity of the Linfield/SOU series makes the yearly contest a very important game to both programs. Can you tell us what the series with Linfield means from the SOU perspective?

(DM) My opinion, Linfield-Southern is the best rivalry! Look at Western, they’re never ranked, why would that be a huge rivalry? Linfield is always one the best teams in the country every season. I always knew if we beat Linfield we had a great team. It also shot us up in the rankings. So for me personally, the Linfield-Southern is the best rivalry hands down.

(WC11) I’d like to discuss the 2001-2003 games. In early 2001 Linfield visited Raiders Stadium and just got our doors blown of the hinges 29-0. It was a packed house and your defense dominated the ‘Cats to a miserable 40 yards of total offense. After that game, did that confirm in your mind that you guys had something special going that year? Can you describe some details of the game and honestly… much fun was it to pound my ‘Cats like that?

(DM) Beating Linfield in 2001 was a great feeling. We knew if we beat the Cats that bad, we had something special going on that season. We had great all around leaders on that team, and an amazing quarterback that took charge on the field. It was fun to see Linfield sort of give up in the fourth quarter, because you never see that from them, they always fight it out till the end. I didn’t get that many carries that game though. I fractured a rib in 2nd quarter. I tried to keep playing, but ended up hitting the bench in the 3rd. It was just too much pain to deal with, and being up like we were; there was no need to abuse my body anymore. I just got healthy for the next week. It still hurt throughout the next couple of games, let me tell you! That game I think is what allowed Linfield to respect SOU a whole lot more.

(WC11) The next two years were just classic games. In 2002 both SOU and Linfield come into the contest highly ranked and locked up in a great game that resulted in a Linfield 42-35 double overtime win. You had an incredible day with rushing for 182 yards and 4 TD’s against a very good Linfield defense. However, you did have a fumble late in the 4th quarter that Linfield would take advantage of to knot up the game at 28-28. When you look back at this game do you remember the great game you had or does your mind just go right to the fumble? Your Raiders would bounce back from the loss and come within minutes of going the distances in the NAIA playoffs. Do you think your team grew from that Linfield game or was it just a case of flushing the loss and moving on?

(DM) This game was one of my most memorable games ever. I had lots of family there, and who doesn’t like an overtime game? I felt like I had one of my best runs in my career in overtime. I’m sure you all remember that one for a TD. The fumble; I don’t like to think about, but that’s football, it happens. Whoever got that thing loose should be proud, because I had almost a thousand carries in my career and had maybe 4 fumbles. If I wouldn’t have fumbled, who knows? We may have won the game, or we may not have. We may not have made the playoffs either, if we had won. That loss really hit home for us and we knew we didn’t want that to happen anymore. We hate to lose to Linfield, but it might have been good for us.

(WC11) Now let’s talk about one of the top three games I’ve seen in my life. 2003 Linfield at Southern where my ‘Cats would escape with the 47-42 win. It was really an electric game and in my mind topped the 2002 thriller.

Again, both teams were highly ranked and there was a boat load of talent on the field for both teams. There were 8 lead changes and over 900 yards of offense on the night. You went off again with 228 yards rushing and 3 TD’s. Dusty, you did just about everything you could to win that game with those two huge 4th quarter TD runs. Was it more frustrating to lose a game like that at home or was the 2002 loss more disappointing? Also, SOU had a very late opener, in fact, I think you might have been one of the last college teams in the nation to play their season opener. Do you think the late start had any impact on the outcome of that game?

(DM) It was way more disappointed about losing that game at home. It was our first game of the season and we hate to lose the opener. We had a better team, talent wise in ‘03 than in ‘02. That loss got our team all fired up and out of sync. If you look back at that season we didn’t get on our feet until our 5th game of the year. It was really hard for me to cope with that start knowing we had talent to win a national championship again that season. I really don’t think the late start had an effect on us as a team. We just had some issues with our defense that really didn’t get resolved until the 5th game of the season. We had a few individuals on the team, who played as individuals, where as in 2001-02 we were a close knit team that stuck together and played as a team. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the 2003 team was the better team out of them all when it comes down to talent.

(WC11) Honestly, in terms of numbers, I’ve never seen a running back have this much success vs the ‘Cats. Linfield coaches still hate hearing your name. You put up a lot of yards and a ton of points on just about every team you squared up against but was there any extra joy in having those great performances versus the ‘Cats?

(DM) Putting up points and yards against the ‘Cats was a huge accomplishment for me and the O-line at SOU. Other teams would look at SOU with who we played, and see the numbers we had against Linfield and think, “Wow, they put those numbers up on the Cats?” It’s a great feeling because Linfield’s defense was outstanding. They hit hard, and were very hard to wear down. As you know, my running style is a wear you down style, go hit you in the mouth type. You definitely feel a great deal of accomplishment when you get the numbers that I did vs. Linfield. But when it all comes down to it, SOU only won one of those battles, and I hate to lose. So I never really looked at the numbers until the season was over. I flat out want to win!

(WC11) I’d like to dive in and talk about your NFL experience. After you wrapped up your historic NAIA career you were picked up as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 2004. Can you tell us about the whole experience in signing the deal with the Rams? How much stress was there in the not knowing who was going to sign you and if you were even going to get picked up at all? Can you tell us what it was like to be a part of the Rams?

(DM) Well first, I wasn’t even sure if I would go anywhere, coming from a small school like SOU. The whole experience, having pro scouts at practice and timing you in the spring was amazing. Just knowing that what you did in college attracted NFL attention was overwhelming. On draft day my agent had told me the teams that were seriously interested. He pushed me in the draft, but told me not to get my hopes up to get drafted. Within a few minutes after the last pick in the 7th round, I had an offer from the Rams. I didn’t hesitate, I took it. I now was a part of the St. Louis Rams. It was a great feeling! I felt like I shouldn’t even be there. I was scared. The NFL is the best of the best, and here I am getting a shot to prove myself. I showed up to training camp as a fullback. I have never taken a snap at fullback in my life. Here I am slamming my head into NFL linebackers. What a time to learn how to lead block, huh? I held my own in training camp as the second string fullback. We had a scrimmage one afternoon, number twos vs. number twos. Coach Martz yells “McGrorty! Get in there at tailback”! We were on the 20 coming out. I took 7 carries in a row and was standing in the endzone. That was the day that I knew I could play at that level. Coach Martz came up to me after practice and told me that I was no longer a fullback, he moved me to tailback. Finally, I was back in my comfort zone. Now I was learning tailback and fullback, so I was a multi-position player which was going to help me make that team. I have a short story for you about the NFL stress. The first cuts come around and my name got called, I was headed to the airport going home. Charlie Army, the general manager, calls my cell phone while I was boarding the plane and tells me not to get on the plane. They brought me back just like that. I then played in the last preseason game and got released after and brought back onto the practice squad 24 hours later. What a stressful couple of weeks that was.
(WC11) So you’re on the practice squad with the Rams but are activated for an October game vs the Miami Dolphins and play on special teams. What was it like to suit up on Sunday for an NFL game? Was the feeling beyond anything else you could have dreamed of? Looking back now, just what did that experience mean to you?

(DM) I was standing back at practice watching the starters run through plays, and Coach Martz yelled to Wilbert Montgomery (the running backs coach) “Get Dusty some reps this week, were bringing him up”. Martz them walked over and pulled me aside, and told me the news. It was the most amazing feeling in the world to hear those words, just knowing that there has never been a SOU Raider to suit up on Sunday. As far as the game on Sunday goes, you can only imagine running out onto a field with 60 thousands fans screaming and yelling. Just multiply the college feeling before a game by 10 and that’s what its like. It’s a feeling that’s almost indescribable. I really wish every football player could do that one time in their life. The whole experience was great. I met lots of people. I’ve been to lots of cities. For me, just knowing that I can play at that level was a great feeling. That did everything for me. It’s all about timing though. You have to be in the right place at the right time to stay in that business. I truly believe if I had not torn my MCL, I would still be in St. Louis or somewhere else. I missed a great deal of training camp that next season, and that’s when you make the team. I just never got in the preseason game films. That’s what the other teams want to see.

(WC11) My last question has to be if you are still close with the SOU program? I know that Coach Olson has moved on and the program is going through a transition period but looks to be in good hands. Can you let us know what you think is the future for SOU football?

(DM) I kept in touch with everyone at SOU until Jeff Olson left. I was a little upset on how the new staff handled their situation. I’m not going to get into that, but it’s almost like the new staff wanted to erase the history and what Coach Jeff Olson did to that program. I truly believe that Jeff built that program. He hasn’t received the credit that he deserves. I still keep in touch with Jeff and most of all the coaches that were there while I was. As far as the future of SOU, I really hope they get back on their feet. But the Olson era is going to be a hard program to live up too!

(WC11) Thank you Dusty for taking the time to talk to us here at the ADvantage Catdome. It was truly an honor to speak with a player that still commands major respect around the Northwest.

(DM) Thanks for the questions. I always enjoyed playing Linfield and will always have the utmost respect for that program. I really enjoyed these questions, and definitely enjoyed playing in McMinnville.

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RaiderNation said...

Dusty was the man! Thanks for the memories #25. *Raider Nation

Bryant said...

I have been a huge Linfield fan for 46 years and I have to admit you were the best running back the Cats ever faced! It was a pleasure watching you play....