Being here, Grant Gremel admits, isn’t something he expected.
It’s more than an hour after Indiana’s loss to Minnesota. The stands are empty, but the lights are still on at Memorial Stadium. Gremel has a football, the one he threw for his first touchdown, tucked under his arm as a group of reporters circle him. There isn’t anything uncommon about this. It’s a ho-hum media session. Nothing more than a few minutes of questions, a few minutes of answers. But for Gremel, a preferred walk-on, this is all relatively new.
Asked what this moment is like for him — playing meaningful snaps, answering questions and, for a few minutes, being the center of attention — Gremel can’t keep himself from smiling.
“When I came here,” Gremel says. “I never thought I’d be in this position.”
Gremel, a redshirt sophomore quarterback, exists in what has evolved into an increasingly intriguing situation. If it had not been for Dexter Williams’ torn ACL in spring practice, Gremel would’ve been the fifth-string quarterback entering this season.
And now? Gremel has appeared in three games. In Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, he was one of the lone bright spots, throwing for 60 yards and one touchdown, plus 23 yards on the ground in just a handful of snaps late in the game. There’s more uncertainty at the quarterback position in Indiana’s season finale against Purdue and Gremel could very well find himself on the field again.
“Of our walk-ons that we've had here, he may have improved the most,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “(He) just really bought in. Just a tough kid, works hard, attention to detail. He's very smart, excellent student. He's what you want in a walk-on in regards to, he does everything right.”
It has become impressive the extent to which Gremel holds respect from his peers despite only playing in three career games. His teammates and coaches speak of him with supreme confidence. Perhaps it’s a product of how Gremel works. During this season, even when he was low on the depth chart, he consistently watched extra film and met with the offensive line and wide receivers.
“His mindset, man,” running back Stephen Carr said about what has impressed him about Gremel. “Grant has been in the system. He knows everything just like Jack (Tuttle) or Mike (Penix Jr.) would know. What impressed me about him is that he's on point. Even though he was I don’t know how far down on the depth chart, he still treated it like he was a starter.”
"I'm trying to mentor him a little bit."
R-Sophomore Grant Gremel had his first career touchdown tonight.
He spoke to the media post game about he and Donaven McCulley's relationship.#iufb pic.twitter.com/Q32H0xAvcH
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) November 21, 2021
Gremel displayed the same focused mindset at Noblesville High School. Justin Roden, who was named Noblesville's head coach after Gremel’s junior season, quickly got a sense for the way his quarterback carried himself. Gremel embraced Roden, his third coach in four years, not only as a person but also learning his offensive schemes. Gremel consistently put up some of the best lifting numbers on the team. If time was cut short during a workout, he’d ask to stay longer to finish his set.
“He’s not there for the production of ‘everyone look at me’ type deal,” Roden said. “It’s more of he wanted to get his work in, he wanted to get stronger.”
The program was at somewhat of a low point when Roden took over. In Gremel’s junior season — his second as a varsity starter — Noblesville went just 1-9. That, however, turned around in large part to Gremel’s skills, but also his intangibles. Gremel mentored younger quarterbacks. Despite being the starter, he was humble enough to tote the ball bag to practice. Noblesville’s offensive line struggled and there were multiple occasions where Gremel got “the snot knocked out of him,” Roden says, but he’d get right back up and return to the huddle.
“I think naturally I’m just kind of a poised person,” Gremel said. “I try to be calm. I try not to think of too big of a situation.”
The result wasn’t domination, but significant progress nonetheless. In Gremel’s senior season, Noblesville went 4-6 and took down county rivals Fishers High School and Hamilton Southeastern. Gremel’s numbers weren’t stellar — 771 yards, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions — but they didn’t account for what can’t be quantified.
“He kind of broke the mold as your type of quarterback because sometimes you get kids (with the) stereotype of being prima donnas,” Roden said. “I would say that he’s anything but that… The way he treated his peers and the way that he conducted his business in the classroom, I think won over a lot of people within the building at Noblesville.”
Perhaps the fact that he didn’t put up huge numbers and played on an underwhelming team for a majority of his career is why Gremel wasn’t highly recruited and rated as a two-star prospect. Roden said that Gremel had a variety of interested programs, including Purdue, but the only school that heavily pursued him was Florida Atlantic University. Gremel, though, was determined to be a Big Ten quarterback. In the offseason before his senior season, he turned down the opportunity at FAU, one which would've provided a better opportunity to compete for playing time. Instead, Gremel opted to accept a preferred walk-on spot in his home state.
“At the end of the day,” Roden said. “He wanted to be able to go to Indiana.”
Upon arriving, Gremel redshirted in 2019. Then last season, he didn’t see the field at all. It appeared that wouldn’t change this season. Meanwhile, Gremel continued with his routine: Meeting with the offensive line and receivers, and watching film in hotel rooms with freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley.
But then an opportunity started to arise. Williams got hurt during spring ball. Michael Penix Jr. was injured against Penn State. Jack Tuttle went down against Ohio State. In that game against the top-10 ranked Buckeyes, a primetime game on national television, Gremel completed 3-of-4 passes for nine yards while being platooned in with McCulley. After the game, Allen shook his head and admitted playing Gremel was “never a thought going into the season.”
In the ensuing weeks, Indiana relied heavily on McCulley, its young quarterback, who showed flashes of brilliance but also moments of concern. After McCulley struggled against Minnesota, Allen elected to give Gremel another chance. In the fourth quarter, he lofted a perfect pass to wide receiver Malachi Holt-Bennett for a 29-yard touchdown.
— Jan Steck Huffman (@legalmomma) November 21, 2021
This brings us back to an hour after Saturday’s game, where Gremel stands in front of reporters. Indiana’s quarterback situation is unknown heading into the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue. It could, though, be Gremel’s first career start. And during that brief media session, Gremel was asked about what the pressure of his start, in a rivalry game, would be like.
His answer, it seemed, was fitting.
“Pressure is fake,” Gremel said, shrugging. “I don’t believe in pressure. Preparation creates confidence… It’s all a mindset. If I start, I start. If Donaven starts, great. We’re doing everything we can to win.”