MANSFIELD — Ty’Lheir Grose had his alarm set for early on a Saturday morning.
It was his junior year of high school and he had just helped his Mansfield Senior Tygers earn a Friday night win. The celebration was short-lived because he had film study early on Saturday morning back at Arlin Field.
It was a morning he will never forget. He made a phone call to Tyger head coach Chioke Bradley to inform him he would not be making it to the film study.
“I remember the phone call and I was like, ‘what do you mean you aren’t coming? What else could you be doing?’ I was riding him pretty hard,” Bradley said.
That was when Grose informed his coach he had just found his father, Alphonso, who had passed away in his sleep from a massive heart attack.
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It was a lot for a 16-year-old kid to handle and Grose would be the first to tell you that he didn’t handle it very well. And who could blame him?
“His dad passing away his junior year derailed him a little bit,” Bradley said. “He meant a lot to him because he came to everything. But he is a Grose, he overcame a lot of adversity to get to where he is now.”
Grose finished the season on the football field, but his performance in the classroom took a hit with everything that was going on in his personal life. During his senior season, when he led the Tygers to the Division III state championship game and a runner-up finish, Grose was a clear Division I caliber football player dominating both sides of the line.
But the setbacks he suffered in the classroom after his father passed made Division I college coaches skeptical.
“It put me back,” Grose said. “On the field, I would just try and go out and dominate and let that anger out, but in the classroom, it really did set me back. I knew that going to junior college, was my opportunity to take everything seriously and make it all come together. I know everyone’s path is different. Mine was going to be a little longer, but it was going to all work out.”
Growing up at Lackawanna Community College
And it did work out. Grose ended up at Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, Pennsylvania playing for head coach Mark Duda who doubled as the defensive line coach, Grose’s specialty.
During the 2021 season, Grose finished with 24 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks for a loss of 18 yards total.
But it was what happened off of the field that was most impactful.
“You just have to grow up so fast,” Grose said. “JUCO is a grind. You don’t have the resources that a Division I school has so everything is a grind and that is what helps you in the long run. It teaches you how to be a man.”
Grose has his eyes opened by the experience of Junior College (JUCO) where football teams are full of kids with similar stories. Either they didn’t have the grades to go Division I or maybe they got into some trouble or perhaps they got a late start in the recruiting game.
“Just being around an entire team where every player has the same story as you was really eye-opening,” Grose said. “They are all there for pretty much the same reason you are. You are all hungry and you know that is your last chance to do something. Being in JUCO is a grind. You are either going to do it or you aren’t.”
And Grose did it and passed with flying colors. He earned his Associate’s Degree finishing two years of school. But it was the call he received last week. It was a call to offer him a scholarship to play football at Western Kentucky University for the Hilltoppers.
“I like what Western Kentucky has going on,” Grose said. “They just had a defensive lineman drafted in the third round and I trust coach (Kenny) Baker and his plan for me. They win games.”
They most certainly do. They went 11-3 in 2016, 9-4 in 2019 and 9-5 last season. Now, Grose gets his chance to help the Hilltoppers continue their winning ways.
“I always knew Ty’Lheir was a great, great football player,” Bradley said. “He had it in him, every tool in the book, but he didn’t take the classroom as serious as he should have, but look at him now. He grew up and matured and the light came on. He got better as a football player, got stronger and learned more and all of that led to wonderful opportunities.”
Mansfield Tygers have a growing tradition with Western Kentucky football
It isn’t the first Mansfield Senior/Western Kentucky connection. Back in 2002, a quartet of Tygers helped the Hilltoppers win the NCAA Division I-AA National Championship. Maurice Bradley, Erik Dandy, Jamarr Lindsay and Carlos Smith were all a part of that team and Grose hopes to be the next Tyger to lead WKU back to the promised land.
“I would love nothing more than to continue that tradition,” Grose said. “I would love to be the first Tyger drafted out of Western Kentucky.”
But none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for his Tyger football family. Bradley was the one who put in the call to Duda to let him know about a man-child D-lineman he had in his program who just needed two years of maturing.
It was his teammates who rallied around him after his father passed away and a community of people who made sure he stayed on the right track.
“Family,” Grose said. “All of them are like family. They are just another family for me.”
And now, Grose, who helped out at the Nike Skills Football Camp at Arlin Field this week, is headed to Division I college football. One has to wonder what his father would think of the hard work he put in during his time at junior college to his path to a Division I scholarship.
“Oh I know he is so proud,” Grose said. “I am just getting started, but I know he would be so proud.”