By MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Warriors coach Rob Gross once believed he’d be coaching at the college level by now. His life has revolved around football since before he could walk.
He attended Syracuse University, the No. 4 team in the nation his senior season. He played in the North-South All Star game as a high school standout and has built connections and relationships in the football realm, at first, with the hopes of one day ascending to the college ranks.
But if you’ve ever met Gross you know why he gave all that up. The best way it can be described is with an adage his team has adopted ever since he took over at Tonawanda in 2010: Protect the tradition.
The Gross family built its name on the football field. Gross’s grandfather, City of Tonawanda police officer and Alderman Robert “Poncho” Gross Sr., his father Robert Gross Jr., his brother Matt Gross and Rob himself have all been Warrior captains. Even Gross’s uncles — Brian and Rich — suited up for Tonawanda in their time.
Rob Gross Jr. (Rob’s dad) never lost a varsity football game and he never missed a game when his sons started playing.
“He never missed a game, whether I was 8 years old at the Tonawanda Football Clinic and not getting onto the field very much or at the games in high school and then on to Syracuse University. My mom and dad were at every game,” Gross said.
Gross’s time at Syracuse impacted him off the field as much as it did during three-a-day practice sessions for the Orange. It taught him about perseverance and hard work — he accomplished things that he didn’t know he was capable of.
He’s taken the lessons he learned in college and applied them in his life and coaching. It’s the reason he has every minute of Warriors practices scripted and why he follows a strict schedule when it comes to preparing for football games.
Football and family have always gone together for Gross and he has implemented a family-like feel to the Tonawanda program.
Gross always wanted to coach at his alma mater, it’s something he was passionate about, and he said Tonawanda will be his last coaching job.
He said that he cares deeply about his players because he once wore the same maroon jersey and strapped on the same Warrior helmet.
“I completely relate to these guys because I am them and who they are,” he said. “I grew up here and it shaped me and guided me through all the decisions and trials in my life … The players bought in and have done so much for me. They’ve brought me so much happiness and satisfaction that I want to return that and bring that same sort of happiness and success for them. They’re teaching me as much as I’m teaching them.”
The lessons on both sides started happening from the very beginning when Gross and his coaching staff installed entirely new offensive, defensive and special team systems. He’s been thrilled with the way they’ve responded.
The Tonawanda football program now has players competing at all three levels of football and Gross is happy with the progress he and his team have made in his three years.
“There’s no road map. There’s no timetable,” Gross said. “The players are doing everything necessary to protect the tradition … The intangibles are in place and those are the things you can control.”