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March 22, 2007

Groves' return a boon for Auburn defense

Quentin Groves plays a position that doesn't reward patience.

The Auburn defensive end can't afford to hesitate if he wants to remain one of the nation's top pass rushers. He didn't get three second-half sacks against eventual national champion Florida last fall by standing around and waiting.

But he needed the patience of Job to withstand the temptation of forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.

Groves already had earned his criminology degree last December. He wanted to reward the parents who raised him. And he also had to think about his own new family after getting married last summer.

"It was really tough," Groves said. "It wasn't so much for me as it was for my mother and father to help them out. I thought about it long and hard. I prayed about it long and hard. I asked God to lead me in the right direction. He said it would be best for me to come back."

In the end, Groves' decision came down to dollars and sense.

The NFL Draft advisory board projected Groves as a third-round pick at best even after he collected 9.5 sacks last year and earned third-team All-America honors from Rivals.com. Groves realized he could earn a bigger payday if he waited a year and upgraded his stock.

"This was the best decision he could have made," said his mother, Barbara.

Groves now enters his senior season intent on making sure his decision pays dividends.

"It's my driving factor more than anything," Groves said. "When I get tired in the fourth quarter, or I get tired in two-a-days or running in summer workouts, I remember that (my parents) have been tired for 22 or 23 years. I know I can't give up."

That persistence has allowed Groves to develop into a college graduate when circumstances could have led him down a much different path.

He grew up without his biological father and had never even met him for the first 22 years of his life. His mother's husband, Bennett Groves, helped raise Quentin and made sure that he grew up in a two-parent household.

Groves believes his background helped make him a performer who thrives in the types of big-game situations that cause other players to crumble.

Life has taught Groves the definition of real pressure. Playing in the Iron Bowl doesn't qualify.

"I've persevered through so much in my life," Groves said. "Not knowing my real father. Sometimes I had to go hungry at night. I just knew God had something greater for me. If I'm playing bad in a game, I just pray to God. I say, 'God please help me.' "

Groves developed a reputation as a big-game performer last year by helping Auburn hand Florida its only loss of the season. Groves recorded three second-half sacks in that game and forced a Chris Leak fumble when the Gators faced third-and-3 from Auburn's 6-yard line in the fourth quarter.

One month later, Groves delivered two sacks and forced two fumbles to help the Tigers beat Alabama for the fifth consecutive year. Groves dominated that game so thoroughly that Alabama used three different players at right tackle in a futile attempt to slow him down.

"He made big plays for us in all the big games," Auburn defensive ends coach Terry Price said. "That's what you expect your big players to do. This year we don't want him just to show up in the big games. We want that same type of performance in all his games. That's what he wants to do."

Auburn has adjusted its defense in a way that could give Groves even more of a showcase.

The Tigers will continue running a 4-3 defense, but they also plan to show a 3-4 look in certain situations. Groves will play defensive end in the 4-3 and will move to linebacker when the Tigers shift to a 3-4 alignment.

Groves basically is inheriting the same kind of role All-Pro defensive end Jason Taylor filled two years ago during Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's lone season on former Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban's staff.

"He's athletic enough and extremely intelligent," Price said. "Combine those two things, and he can definitely play outside linebacker for us when it's called upon."

Groves believes the change in assignment should help him play better than ever.

"I want to get 13 or 14 sacks, if not 20," Groves said. "I really said before spring practice that I want 22."

A 22-sack season would give Groves the second-highest total in NCAA history. Arizona State's Terrell Suggs owns the national single-season record with 24 sacks in 2002.

The supremely confident Groves sees no problem setting his sights so high.

"Then if I fall short, I'll still get 15 or 16," Groves said.

If Groves falls short of those numbers, it won't be because he failed to work hard enough.

Groves has watched game film of Taylor's highlights to prepare himself for this new role. He also has analyzed how NFL stars Joey Porter, Shawne Merriman and Willie McGinest play linebacker in a 3-4 system.

Instead of resting on his laurels after earning All-America honors last season, Groves thinks about how he could have done better.

"I'm an OK guy," Groves said. "Not great. Just OK."

Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves' decision to return for his senior season gives him an excellent chance of breaking the school record for career sacks. Here's a look at the top 10 Auburn players in career sacks since 1981.
26: Gerald Robinson, 1982-85
23: Quentin Groves, 2003-present
21: Tracy Rocker, 1985-88
21: Craig Olgetree, 1986-89
18.5: Reggie Torbor, 2000-03
17: Leonardo Carson, 1996-99
17: Willie Whitehead, 1991-94
16: Marcus Washington, 1994-96
16: Gary Walker, 1993-94
15.5: Stanley McClover, 2004-05
He wasn't always so motivated.

Nor was he always so devout.

Although Groves grew up as a Christian, he started getting more serious about his religion in his teenage years after meeting Carlos Thompson, an employee at his high school. He began going to church regularly with the Thompsons and now considers them his godparents.

"He's changed obviously from the way he carried himself as a teenager," Thompson said. "He's very responsible as an adult. When he was in high school, he'd call and joke around and play a lot. Now he still calls, but there's more of a businesslike aspect. He's serious about his future career."

He's also serious about his family.

When Groves got married last July, it ended his days as a typical college student. Groves goes home to his wife, Treska, instead of going out.

"It made me mature," Groves said. "I can't do the things I used to do. I can't roam the streets late at night. I can't stay out late. I can't do all the things single people do because I'm a married man. I take workouts seriously because I know I have to provide for my future."

Barbara and Bennett Groves welcomed Treska to the family with open arms.

"She's so wonderful," Barbara Groves said. "She's like an inspiration to him. She lifts him up when he's down. She loves him for who he is, not who he's going to be or whatever. Lots of people love a person because they see money. Not her. She loves him for him. If he was poor, she'd still love him."

Groves lately has reached out to all the branches of his growing family tree.

All those years of wondering and waiting ended last December when he finally met his biological father for the first time.

"To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be bitter and hateful," Groves said, "but I just gave him a great big hug. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. I thank him for planting the seed, even if he didn't stick around to see it grow."

Groves can afford to wait one more year to earn his riches.

He already has faced much greater tests of patience.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at [email protected].



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