Gross-Matos focused and working hard to play his role
Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos folded his arms and flashed a cautious grin toward reporters Saturday afternoon.
After spending an entire summer away from his team — due to a two-monthlong suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules — the defensive end was just happy to be back in Beaver Stadium. But he had to know the questions that awaited.
What was it like being away? And what did he take away from the suspension?
“I made a mistake,” said a soft-spoken Gross-Matos, who officially returned to the team Thursday ahead of camp opening Friday. “Learn from the mistake and move forward. Be more mature.”
And later, “I feel ready to go, absolutely. I’m excited. ... I feel like I got better from it.”
Gross-Matos has fast become the face of this defense, if not the program. In 2017, that face was Saquon Barkley and, in 2018, it was Trace McSorley. Now, after a 20 tackle-for-loss campaign, Gross-Matos is generating much of the Nittany Lions’ preseason hype.
CBS Sports has already pegged the defensive player as a potential top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL draft. And the Big Ten placed him on its prestigious preseason list, where he became the first Penn State defender to earn the honor since DT Anthony Zettel in 2015. He also received the national treatment, earning a front-page story from ESPN.com and a spot in the top 100 players of college football from Sports Illustrated.
Gross-Matos’ suspension derailed what should’ve simply been a feel-good story about a player overcoming a tough childhood — he lost both his father and brother at a young age — and shining after some normal rookie struggles. Instead, Gross-Matos’ story is more complex now.
But, to him, there’s no sense in looking back.
“I appreciated the time I had with my family,” he said. “But my focus now is to be here and do what I can for this team.”
Throughout his suspension, he continued to chat with teammates who “made me feel not alone.” He also spoke with head coach James Franklin “all the time” while continuing to keep a dialogue open with defensive line coach Sean Spencer and defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
Conversely, that same coaching staff couldn’t be happier to see him back on the field. Expectations have not changed, suspension or not. Just ask the staff: Are they happy with how Gross-Matos has returned?
“Absolutely,” Spencer said. “Came back at 255 pounds, runs like the wind. Lean. Whatever you expect from Yetur, he’s going to give you even more.”
Said head coach James Franklin: “He’s had a great summer, from what I see. He looked great (Friday).”
Both Franklin and Spencer said Gross-Matos weighed in at about 255 pounds, but Gross-Matos said he came in at exactly 263. Whatever the case, the 6-foot-5 junior said he’s entering camp with a simple mind-set: Don’t stop; keep giving it your all.
“My motivation was to get back here, where I am now,” Gross-Matos said. “I know how these guys work, I know what they did over the summer, and I hold myself to the same standard.”
According to Spencer, Gross-Matos boasts the ability and short-area quickness of Carl Nassib with the want-to and motor of Garrett Sickels. That combination allowed the junior to rack up 11.5 tackles-for-loss and four sacks in the last five games of the 2018 regular season.
So, summer suspension or not, Gross-Matos’ long-term outlook hasn’t changed.
“All the expectations are as if he was here since Day 1,” Spencer said. “Never going to change.”