Andy Rostberg had the privilege of coaching Lindsay Whalen in basketball at Hutchinson High School. He can entertain a person for long minutes with tales of admiration for Whalen as a competitor, a personality and the foundation of an athletic program.
Rostberg has been the football coach at Hutchinson for two decades and also can wax poetic over the impact of Robbie Grimsley on the Tigers. Asked about Grimsley, the Star Tribune’s Metro Player of Year in 2014 and now in his fourth season as a strong safety at North Dakota State, this was his response:
“There are players that affect games, there are players that affect seasons, and then there are players that forever affect programs. Robbie has forever put his stamp on Hutchinson football.
“There are football attributes that make players great: durability, strength, toughness, intelligence. Most players have a couple. Robbie has them all.”
Grimsley had 30 touchdowns in Hutchinson’s first 10 games of the 2014 season and they all came in first halves. He rushed for 1,668 yards, averaging 10.7 yards per carry. He was a terrific kick returner and ran in three consecutive state meets in the 100 meters or 400-meter relay.
The Division I schools offering scholarships were the four Dakotas — NDSU, North Dakota, SDSU and South Dakota — and Air Force. Apparently Big Ten recruiters, including Jerry Kill and the Gophers, did not feel Grimsley brought quite enough skill at his size (6 foot and 190 pounds) to offer a scholarship.
This limited D-I interest worked out well for Grimsley: By choosing North Dakota State, he had a chance to beat Iowa, 23-21, in their only meeting in 2016, which is something no Gophers enrollees from 2015 to the present have done in four games.
“Robbie played in our first game as a freshman, in front of 25,000 people in Montana, did a nice job, and became a starter,” NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. “That doesn’t happen too often here, a four-year starter, and particularly in the secondary.
“We put a lot of responsibility on our strong safety, to tackle and to cover, and Robbie does both. He’s outstanding at disguising coverage. He just gets the game.”
This is Klieman’s fifth season after replacing Craig Bohl. The Bison have won three of four FCS titles, after winning three in a row before Bohl’s departure for Wyoming. Six out of seven national titles, with only a semifinal loss to James Madison in 2016 to interrupt the championship run.
The Bison are rated No. 1 and are 8-0 going into Saturday’s game in Fargo vs. Youngstown State. In Grimsley’s four seasons, they are 47-5.
What’s the overwhelming feeling a couple of days before a Bison game — pressure or excitement?
“There’s pressure, but mostly in what we expect from ourselves,” Grimsley said. “What we have to do to keep this going is to prepare so that everybody knows his job for every game. When we do that, it usually turns out well.”
Grimsley knows that “usually” is a more proper adverb than “definitely” in football. Hutchinson was a two-time defending Class 4A champion in 2014. Robbie had never played in a losing football game for Hutch. And then on a freezing day in Prior Lake, the Tigers were beaten 35-14 by DeLaSalle in the state semis.
“Last game in high school, trying to go out with three straight titles; that was the most emotional loss, I’d have to say,” Grimsley said. “When we lost to James Madison in 2016, I knew there were two more years to play here.”
It doesn’t take much for Grimsley to remember the DeLaSalle upset. Marquise Bridges is a redshirt junior starter at cornerback and was a standout for DeLaSalle.
“We talk about it regularly,” Grimsley said. “Marquise gets in the last word.”
Grimsley was projected as a receiver or running back by other interested D-I schools. NDSU coaches told him from the get-go that they wanted him in the secondary.
“He was a phenomenal running back,” Klieman said. “We also had a running back named John Crockett when he came here. We watched Robbie play defense in high school, and the way he reacted there, with his speed, with his tackling … we saw a strong safety.”
Grimsley will receive a degree in criminal justice next month. He had an internship with the Fargo police department this past summer, working primarily with the investigative unit.
“Law enforcement or law school are both possibilities,” Grimsley said. “First, we’ll see how it turns out with football.”
NFL scouts have noted the same Grimsley attributes attested to by Klieman and Rostberg. And even without that, football has turned out fine for Robbie Grimsley, 2014 Metro Player of Year and Minnesota’s Mr. Football:
Two national titles, a shot at a third, and 1-0 at Iowa. Let’s call that one the Floyd of Fargo game.