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OWINGS MILLS — Ben Grubbsâ€™ journey into the NFL wasnâ€™t always a green-light experience. As the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ newly-minted first-round draft pick arrives at the teamâ€™s training complex today for the start of a two-day rookie minicamp, it marks the launch of his jump to the big city and the high profile world of professional football.
It’s a big change for Grubbs who grew up in a small, idyllic Alabama hamlet that was just busy enough to require one red light.
Eclectic, Ala., has a population of 1,037, according to the latest census figures. It wasn’t quite big enough to support a McDonaldâ€™s or a Wal-Mart.
During the bulky offensive guardâ€™s burgeoning high school years as an oversized fullback, linebacker and power forward, the future Auburn star spent his free time hanging out at a gas station near Elmore County High.
â€œIâ€™m a country boy,â€ Grubbs said after Baltimore drafted him with the 29th overall pick of last weekendâ€™s draft. â€œWhen I moved to Auburn — which is not a huge city, just a nice city — I thought that was the life. Now that I am here, it feels like home. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s going to be any problem.â€
Grubbs was raised in a single-parent household by his mother, Deborah Grubbs, after his father died of a blood clot when he was five years old. She worked long hours in a post office while raising Grubbs and his older brother, Cedric, on her own.
â€œMy mom instilled great morals and values in me,â€ Grubbs said. â€œAs far as my character, I try to treat people right: like how I want to be treated.â€
One piece of advice Grubbsâ€™ mother imparted to him was to never quit whenever an obstacle got in his path. He was evidently listening. Today, Grubbs is an imposing 6-foot-3, 315-pounder who was rated the top pure guard in the draft.
In various other incarnations, Grubbs has been a 248-pound high school fullback and linebacker who even played receiver and tight end. That flexibility and athleticism helped prepare him for a stint as an unheralded defensive end on the Auburn scout team before finally hitting the field as a 280-pound blocking tight end as a sophomore in 2003.
â€œMy freshman year was the first time putting my hand in the dirt,â€ Grubbs said. â€œI went through some trials and tribulations.â€
During Grubbsâ€™ first college game against Mississippi State, his key block sprang future Tampa Bay Buccaneers runner Carnell â€œCadillacâ€ Williams for a long touchdown. One year later, Grubbs forged a permanent home on the offensive line at left guard and began to thrive there as Auburn went undefeated.
â€œI think it was just my time,â€ said Grubbs, who loved baseball as a kid and was nicknamed "Big Hurt" after baseball slugger and former Auburn football and baseball star Frank Thomas. â€œI was hungry. I was the guy sitting in the stands my freshman year watching my roommate and teammates play.
â€œI just remember that feeling, and thatâ€™s not a feeling that I like. I want to be in the action. Each year, I just kept getting better and my dream was getting close and closer. Now, Iâ€™m here.â€
By his senior year, Grubbs was an All-Southeastern Conference selection who only allowed three career sacks and seven quarterback pressures while being flagged for four penalties.
Grubbs was limited at the NFL scouting combine in February due to a viral infection, but it wasnâ€™t his 40-yard dash time of 5.18 seconds or bench pressing 225 pounds 29 times that sold the Ravens on him. It was his personality during an interview with Baltimore at the combine, game film and background.
The Ravens were convinced enough that they didnâ€™t feel they need to invite him to Baltimore for a predraft visit. By his March 12 campus workout, Grubbs was over his illness and improved his speed to 5.1 seconds with 35 repetitions in the bench press.
â€œIt was a slam dunk,â€ Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. â€œWhen we interview a guy at the combine that we love without any questions at all, thereâ€™s no sense for us to bring a guy back. We love him. No-brainer."
Grubbs was regarded as a consensus safe pick after starting 38 consecutive games and never being injured or in any sort of trouble off the field. He graduated a year ago with a major in public administration and a minor in business.
â€œIâ€™m a quiet guy,â€ Grubbs said. â€œYouâ€™re not going to see me hyping up the crowd. Iâ€™m always just sitting back listening and watching and laughing. My teammates called me the silent leader because I really led by example.
â€œWhen I open my mouth, they really listen because theyâ€™re like, â€˜Wow, Ben Grubbs is talking.â€™ So, it means something.â€
Although Grubbs played left guard for Auburn, heâ€™s expected to shift to right guard in the NFL and compete with incumbent Keydrick Vincent for a starting job. While guard isn’t a glamour position, various analysts have lauded Grubbs as a sure-fire starter and future Pro Bowl selection.
â€œHeâ€™s very bright-eyed and looks like heâ€™s ready to line up and play at this moment, which is what we expect of him,â€ general manager Ozzie Newsome said.
Grubbs is hoping to mirror the initial impact of San Diego Chargers rookie left tackle Marcus McNeill, who played next to Grubbs for two years at Auburn. McNeill emerged as an all-rookie selection last season for an AFC West division champion.
â€œI learned a lot of good things from him,â€ Grubbs said. â€œHe called me and said how proud of me he was and how he knows that Iâ€™m going to be successful as well.â€
Virtually the only criticism leveled at the Ravensâ€™ new prize blocker was that he lacks a nasty streak and doesn’t always play as physically as possible, allowing defenders to get into his pads. Grubbs dismissed the notion that he might be too nice to excel at this brutal sport.
â€œOn the field, I have no friends,â€ Grubbs said. â€œMy motto is, â€˜Hit them before they hit me.â€™ I donâ€™t want to walk off the field with any regrets. I take that with me everyday and try to play my heart out.â€
NOTES: Here are several of the undrafted rookies Baltimore is expected to announce as new additions today, according to their respective college sports information departments and agents: Central Michigan wide receiver Damien Lisnon, Grand Valley State quarterback Cullen Finnerty, Notre Dame defensive end Travis Leitko, Notre Dame tight end Marcus Freeman, Hampton cornerback Calvin Bannister, Houston cornerback Willie Gaston, Missisippi State nose guard Andrew Powell, USC offensive tackle Kyle Young, Penn State safety Donnie Johnson, San Diego State middle linebacker Joe Martin, San Diego State cornerback Terrell Maze, Syracuse punter/kickoff specialist Brendan Carney, Southeast Missouri State defensive end Edgar Jones, Syracuse defensive end Jamar Atkinson, Alabama offensive tackle Kyle Tatum, Northeastern tight end Kendrick Ballantyne and Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit. … The Ravens signed exclusive-rights free agent long snapper Matt Katula.