PISCATAWAY — What started out as a second chance for Razohnn Gross has expanded into an exclusive opportunity.
A successful wrestler who earned his way from walk-on to scholarship, Gross has rejoined the Rutgers football program and is participating in spring practice, according to sources. That puts him in the elite company of two-sport athletes for the Scarlet Knights.
Dismissed from the football team and suspended from school in September 2015 along with four then-teammates who all were arrested in connection to an alleged assault, Gross returned to Rutgers through student disciplinary hearings in time for the 2016 spring semester.
Wrestling coach Scott Goodale offered Gross — a former NJSIAA high school state champion for Don Bosco Prep — a second chance with no room for error last May, after Gross was accepted into a pre-trial intervention probationary program that could lead to the charge being dropped from his record.
Over the course of wrestling season, Goodale praised Gross’ integration with the team on- and off-the-mat, and Gross — who worked overnights at UPS while out of school — was in tears after winning a big match in January because the wrestling coaches believed in him. He will rejoin the team after football season ends.
“I still have friends on the football team,” Gross told NJ Advance Media in December. “Even when I was going through what I was going through, I still had people reaching out to me. I still had people in my corner.
“That meant a lot because when we go to war on that field, it’s something different. It’s a brotherhood. I feel like football is going to be good. They are up and coming. I wish them the best.”
Rutgers football coach Chris Ash was hired to clean up the dysfunction and disciplinary issues that marred former coach Kyle Flood’s tenure. A wrestling fan from growing up in Iowa, Ash had Goodale speak to the football team last spring.
Gross went 14-12 in wrestling and finished sixth at heavyweight at the Big Ten Championships, missing qualifying for the national tournament by one spot.
But Gross wasn’t shy about his longing for the gridiron.
“Football is my passion,” Gross told NJ Advance Media in December. “My dad instilled it in me, and I still love it to this day.”
Though a more highly regarded wrestling recruit, Gross opted instead to join the football team as a walk-on. He switched from fullback to defensive line back to fullback in three years but never played in a game.
Of the five players simultaneously arrested, Gross is the only one who returned to classes at Rutgers.
By all accounts, the locker room culture within Rutgers football is much different now than the last team that Gross was a member of the team.
Gross’ addition might also solve a need for Rutgers, which is looking for an H-back in its spread offense. The position — a hybrid fullback-tight end — was not part of the offense last season and Rutgers has no one on its roster with collegiate game experience as a lead-blocker.
New offensive coordinator Jerry Kill moved walk-on linebackers Max Anthony and Jim Brady to H-back and signed Wayne Hills High School quarterback recruit Brendan Devera with the position change in mind.
Rutgers’ leading receiver Jawuan Harris is the starting center fielder for the baseball team, but he was recruited out of high school with that agreement in place. Walk-on wide receiver Alex Schoen pulls double duty with the men’s lacrosse team.
Ryan Dunleavy may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rydunleavy. Find NJ.com Rutgers Football on Facebook.