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Grootegoed making impact from sideline

Community College Football

Former USC All-American linebacker passes along tricks of the trade as OCC assistant.

October 11, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • Matt Grootegoed, a former USC All-American linebacker, is the linebackers coach at Orange Coast College.
Matt Grootegoed, a former USC All-American linebacker,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

He would trade his headphones for a helmet in a second. But these days, the headphones represent Matt Grootegoed's connection to the game he has always loved.

"On the field, I get the itch, sometimes, to go play," said Grootegoed, 30, a former USC All-American linebacker who became an Orange County football legend as a tailback and safety at Mater Dei High about a dozen years ago. "The best part about coaching is being around football, being around the guys and just being in the game."

Grootegoed is six games into his first season as linebackers coach at Orange Coast College, which is 3-3 entering its home game against Santa Ana Saturday at 7 p.m. at LeBard Stadium. It's the first time he has immersed himself in football since his professional career ended after three seasons with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League in 2009.

After starring at USC, where the one-time Butkus Award finalist won back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004 and played with Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, Grootegoed signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005.

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After being released from Tampa Bay's practice squad, the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder signed with the Detroit Lions, for whom he played the final three games of the 2005 season.

His first year in Canada was 2007 and he helped the Stampeders win the 2008 Grey Cup, Canada's equivalent to the Super Bowl.

"I wanted to play more but things don't always work out the way you'd like," Grootegoed said. "But I took as much advantage of [the opportunity to play] as I could and I enjoyed every freakin' second of it, that's for sure."

Always an inspirational player, though never a vocal leader, Grootegoed picked firefighting as his post-football career path. He completed a six-month program at a fire academy in Sacramento in 2010 and has been working toward obtaining a job in that field ever since.

But while he awaits that call, he has answered another: the allure of a game for which he was always uniquely suited as an athlete.

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