Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There is an unmistakable air of mystery to Tommy Grady. Not sinister mystery, but the kind that begs the question: Why isn't he quarterbacking in the NFL?
Tebowmania is everywhere, but what about Gradynamics?
Instead of playing for Denver or New York, he's leading the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League. Boy, is he leading. He tops the league in five offensive categories. Last week against Kansas City he logged a league-record 46 completions and a franchise-record 436 yards. In March he tied the league mark for touchdowns in a game (11) and is nearing records in both total touchdowns and passing yards.
Such is his life in the AFL, which has never seen a pass it didn't admire. What's not to like? Short, narrow field, eight-player teams, zero defense, last one with the ball usually wins …
"Almost like in your backyard," Grady says. "Everyone knows you're going to throw."
To him a perfect day is "25-30 passes, 300 yards and 10 touchdowns and win … and not get hit."
Then you get to the mystery. There's that body, sculpted like a 6-foot-7 inch superhero: long and lean with his trapezius muscle surging between shoulders and neck. This is a guy who could play any sport he wished, which he pretty much did. He was all-America in high school football, all-state in basketball and all-area in baseball. Raised in Huntington Beach, Calif., he also surfed, boogie boarded, swam, golfed and did most every other warm weather sport.
He was recruited in basketball and baseball by Pac-10 schools and by everyone in football: USC, UCLA, Louisiana State, Alabama, Oklahoma State. But once he made his recruiting trip to Oklahoma, he figured everything was, well, OK.
Grady is vague about why he transferred from Oklahoma to Utah in 2005, saying he loved life in Norman but doesn't discuss details. Some of it certainly was the prospect of playing time. But at Utah he ended up behind Brian Johnson, the eventual Sugar Bowl MVP. Grady had transferred with the understanding the Utes would be running a pro-style offense. Instead, they ran the spread, which was better suited to Johnson's skills.
Though Grady did start four games his senior year, he never did own the position. Minor injuries and Johnson's play limited him to just 12 games and 143 passes in college.
"I don't blame anybody," Grady says.
It's that laid back approach that makes Grady appealing. There are no excuses, or even complaints. Though he hasn't yet reached his biggest goal, he has nothing bad to say about his AFL years. He has had tryouts with several NFL teams, but in 2009 signed with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, where he played two years before joining the Blaze.
It's no secret that every AFL player's goal is to work in the more visible, lucrative NFL. But setting passing records in the AFL isn't a bad way to wait. "I love the lifestyle," says the 27-year-old Grady, noting that it even provides time for golf.
Besides, Kurt Warner didn't reach the NFL until he was 27 and didn't star until a year later.
So Grady's best move is to work hard and do what all AFL players do: Visualize becoming the next Warner. There's something immensely appealing about going from grocery bagger to AFL star to Super Bowl MVP.
Meanwhile, he has learned to be flexible and patient, with good reason. When he came to the University of Utah, he expected to become a star. Who knew he would become a star in Utah but not at Utah?
That sort of juxtaposition has also made Grady a bit cautious. Asked what he'll be doing when he's 30, he says, "I just take things year by year."
Fair enough, considering nothing else has worked out the way he expected.
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