Tommy Grady isn’t one to sit around reminiscing about the old days, second-guessing past decisions and wondering what might have been. Truth is, he’s focused squarely on the present and his job as starting quarterback for the Yard Dawgz, Oklahoma City’s Arena Football One franchise.
The Yard Dawgz are part of an alliance that saw several teams from the Arena Football League merge with seven teams from the af2 developmental league, and Grady figures to be one of the main keys to the team’s potential success this season.
While coach Sparky McEwen’s squad opened the season shorthanded, thanks to a handful of injuries ” and suffered a 54-38 setback against Jacksonville this past Saturday ” expectations are running high. The future for the league, team and Grady seems bright.
But every once in a while, the 25-year-old California native probably wishes he could turn back the clock to rewrite a brief period that unfolded in 2005, when he was a redshirt freshman vying for the starting quarterback job at the University of Oklahoma.
Heisman Trophy winner Jason White had departed after the 2004 campaign, thus opening the door for Grady to battle it out with teammates Rhett Bomar and Paul Thompson for the vacant spot. And while it appeared to be a close three-horse race throughout much of the spring and summer, he eventually saw the writing on the wall.
“It was just a situation where there were three good quarterbacks and someone was going to be the odd man out,” Grady said.
Grady was that guy. So instead of hanging around as the Sooners’ possible third-team QB, he transferred to Utah. There, he would have to sit out a season and then get the chance to resume his collegiate career with a clean slate.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned.
Bomar eventually beat out Thompson for the starting OU job, but played just one season before being dismissed from the team after committing an NCAA violation. That left the quarterback situation wide open in 2006, but Grady was more than a thousand miles away in Salt Lake City, riding the bench.
“I definitely wished I had stayed at Oklahoma, but I was young and made a snap decision to leave. So I’ve tried to make the best of it,” said Grady, who was the third-ranked pro-style quarterback in the nation when he arrived at OU in fall 2003. “I had a really good experience during my time in Norman. That’s where I met many of my closest friends and all of my teammates. I definitely regret leaving, but I don’t dwell on it. You just have to learn from it and move on.”
Grady did move on, sort of. When his mostly forgettable stint with Utah was up, he tried to catch on with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. He survived until late in preseason camp before being one of the team’s final cuts going into the 2008 season.
He eventually landed with San Jose of the old AFL, and fielded offers from other teams before deciding that a return to Oklahoma might be what he needed to get his career back on track.
“I chose to come back here because I knew I would feel comfortable in Oklahoma. I have a lot of great friends who live here, and I felt the opportunity with the Yard Dawgz was a good one,” he said.
Still, there had to be doubts about Grady’s overall ability. After all, the last time he actually owned a starting quarterback job was his senior season at Edison High School in Huntington
Beach, Calif. But those who were familiar with his game knew the Yard Dawgz were getting a quality player.
“What always stood out about Tommy was the fact he has a cannon for an arm and is an extremely talented guy,” said former OU running back Jacob Gutierrez, who was part of Grady’s recruiting class. “He was in a tough situation here, but you always knew if he got the chance, he could play the game.”
Grady’s chance came at the end of the 2009 season when he stepped in as the starting QB for the final three games and threw for more than 1,100 yards and 23 touchdowns. His season-closing performance drew rave reviews and made him the front-runner this spring.
“Over the years that I have coached professional football, (Tommy) is without a doubt the most gifted quarterback that I have seen play in arena football,” McEwen said.
For now, Grady would like nothing better than to live up to such lofty expectations. And he knows he still has some adjusting to do get even more comfortable with the fast-paced indoor game.
“It’s definitely a different-style of football, so I’m still settling in to some degree. If we get all of our guys back, I think we’ll be fun to watch this season,” he said.“Jay C. Upchurch