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Ex-UCM football linebacker Joe Grubb needs help with cancer

Joe Grubb, left, with former University of Central Missouri football players and coaches Jeff Floyd, Paul Glaunert, McCabe Turner, Rob Park and Terry Noland.

Facebook/CMSU Fighting Mules Football Alumni

When I was an 18-year-old freshman defensive player on the University of Central Missouri football team, linebacker Joe Grubb was one of the leaders of our defense. A 1989 graduate of Odessa High School, Grubb was a tough, athletic and tough football player. He also had a mean streak.

What else would you expect from an Odessa Bulldog and a Central Missouri Mule?

This week I spoke with my former teammate. It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life. Last year, doctors diagnosed Grubb, 53, with a brain cancer known as glioblastoma. It’s an aggressive cancer, Grubb told me. There is no cure, only treatment, he said. Since last July, he has undergone brain surgery twice.

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I had learned of Grubb’s cancer diagnosis through a Facebook post. Almost immediately I cried. Emotionally, I’m still reeling from the news.

Another former teammate organized a GoFundMe page to help Grubb and his family during this difficult time. Until recently, he worked as a carpenter for JE Dunn Construction, a gig he has held since 2014. Because of recurring seizures related to glioblastoma, Grubb can’t be on a construction site, he told me.

During our conversation, Grubb and I reflected on what it meant to be a UCM football player. We talked about the mutual respect we have for each other – not only as former teammates, but also as fathers and roommates. Grubb is a married father of three children and has one grandchild. He talked about how he had followed my work since I joined The Star in 2016 as a breaking news reporter. Gaining Grubb’s respect was something I had been trying to do since my freshman year in 1992, I told him. After a brief silence – you could have heard a pin drop – Grubb choked.

“Thanks Tory,” he said. “That means a lot.”

Inducted into the UCM Athletics Hall of Fame

I felt compelled to tell Grubb about my admiration for him. He needed to hear the impact he had on this then skinny, know-it-all teenager from south St. Louis. At the time, I thought I knew what it took to become a successful American football player. Ha! That was far from the case.

Grubb exemplified the qualities of a great student-athlete, I told him. And I was grateful to call him not only a teammate, but also a brother for life.

“We put on that Mule jersey for the same reason,” Grubb said. “It didn’t matter if you were from south St. Louis, Kansas City or some other city like Odessa, Missouri.”

On the field, Grubb was the embodiment of what it meant to be a Mule, our team mascot: fierce and tenacious with a stubborn refusal to lose or give up. Off the court, the biology major rarely caused trouble on or off campus, lifting weights relentlessly and religiously studying game film of upcoming opponents.

As an underclassman, I looked up to most of the veterans on the team. None more so than Grubb. He was the standard. In 2010, Grubb was elected to the UCM Athletics Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for some of the best athletes to ever play a sport at the Division II school in Warrensburg.

His UCM Hall of Fame biography provides a snippet of what kind of player Grubb was. It reads: “Grubb ranks second in school history with 333 tackles (180 solo, 153 assists). He was a second-team Football Gazette All-American in 1991 before a foot injury robbed him of much of his 1992 campaign. He was also a first-team All-MIAA selection in 1991 and 1992, and a third-team All-MIAA selection in 1990. He posted the second-most tackles in Mules history in a single season in 1991 with 141 stops (one shy of the record) and his 22 tackles (19 solo) at Pittsburg State in 1991 rank third in a game.

Retired William Jewell head coach: ‘just a tough deal’

Jeff Floyd is a former defensive coordinator at Central Missouri. He is also a former head coach at William Jewell College in Liberty and Truman High School in Independence. Floyd retired from coaching, but recruited me to UCM after high school. Decades later we have stayed in touch.

In addition to being the architect of a defense known as “Dirty Red,” Floyd also coached linebackers at the time. Floyd compared Grubb to a coach on the field.

He described Grubb’s cancer diagnosis as “just a tough deal,” Floyd said.

He added: “You know the saying, ‘good players make good coaches?’ Well, at UCM we had a period where we had a very good defense – and that was because we had a core group of very good players on defense. And the core of that core group of players was Joe Grubb.

“Joe epitomized what we were looking for in defense. He completely bought into our system, worked extremely hard at his craft and played fast and hard. Joe was often an eraser for our defense and made up for any mistakes we made, including the mistakes I made in setting the game.”

In the heart of Mule Ball Brothers for Life

I redshirted in 1992, meaning I practiced every day but never played in a game. But I was honored to be part of a group that Floyd described as special. Among our peers, Grubb was the undisputed leader of a nationally ranked defense.

“That group on defense was and still is special and close,” Floyd said. “There is a group of fifteen to twenty former players who still keep in touch, still get together and relive old times and love each other. Joe is also the center of that group. I love Joe Grubb.”

In recent years, Grubb has been the heart of the group MBBL — Mule Ball Brothers for Life. It’s UCM’s way of connecting the different eras of UCM football in hopes of helping current coaches and players at the school, Floyd said.

Now one of MBBL’s founders needs help and Grubb appreciates their efforts.

“All my Mule boys fight for me,” he said.

Besides, Grubb still calls Odessa home and his impact there is clear. Next year, one of his three daughters, Kinly Grubb, will begin her first year as an assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team at Odessa High.

Kinly graduated from Odessa in 2018 and is a former basketball player at Fort Hays State and Baker universities.

Although Grubb’s father Robert “Bob” Grubb was honored in memoriam as part of the 2015-16 Odessa R-VII Public Foundation Hall of Fame class, my former teammate is not among the inductees. I believe he should be.

I urge the Odessa community to consider honoring one of the best football players and men I know from Odessa High.

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Toriano Porter is an opinion writer and member of the editorial staff of The Star. Since joining McClatchy in 2012, he has received state, regional and national recognition for his reporting.