2004: Grootegoed, an All-American candidate who has uncanny football instincts and can usually be found at the point of action, returns for his fourth season as a starting linebacker as a senior in 2004. After spending the past 3 years on the strong side, he moved to the weak side in 2004 spring practice.
2003: Grootegoed started for his third season at strongside linebacker as a junior in 2003. But he sprained his left ankle against Stanford, played briefly against Notre Dame before respraining it, then missed USC's next 4 games of 2003 before seeing brief action against Oregon State (while starting) and Michigan. Overall in 2003 while appearing in 9 games (starting 8), he had 41 tackles, including 4.5 for losses of 24 yards (with 1.5 sacks for 12 yards), plus 1 deflection, 1 fumble recovery and 2 forced fumbles. He was 1 of 11 semifinalists for the 2003 Butkus Award (the only Pac-10 selection) and 1 of 12 semifinalists for the 2003 Lombardi Award. He was named to the 2003 All-Pac-10 second team. He had 5 tackles and forced a fumble (setting up a USC field goal) at Auburn, added 9 stops, a fumble recovery (which set up a USC TD) and a deflection against BYU and then had 4 tackles and a forced fumble (to set up a USC TD) against Hawaii. He made 8 tackles at California, 9 at Arizona State (with 2 for loses) and 4 against Stanford. He had 1 tackle in brief action against both Notre Dame and Michigan.
2002: Grootegoed started for his second season at strongside linebacker as a sophomore in 2002 and led the Trojans in tackles. Overall in 2002 while starting all 13 games, he had a team-best 81 tackles, including a team-best 16.5 for losses of 81 yards (with a team-high 8 sacks for 54 yards), plus 3 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception which he returned 49 yards and 4 deflections. He made the 2002 All-Pac-10 first team. He missed 2002 spring practice while recovering from a leg injury he suffered during the 2001 season.
He had 3 tackles against Auburn and Colorado, then 9 (1.5 for a loss) at Kansas State, 5 (3 for a loss) against Oregon State. He then had a team-best 9 tackles (1 for a loss) at Washington State. He had a career-best (and team-high) 11 tackles (2 were sacks) and forced a fumble (on a sack) that he recovered (to set up a TD) against California (he also later recovered an on-side kick). Against Washington, he had 3 tackles (1 for a loss) and an interception (which he returned 49 yards to set up a USC TD). He made a team-best 8 tackles at Oregon (with a deflection), 8 stops (including 3 sacks) and a deflection at Stanford and 5 tackles (with a sack) against Arizona State. He ahd a game-best 8 tackles (1 for a loss) at UCLA and added 3 tackles (2 for losses, with a sack) and a deflection against Notre Dame. Against Iowa in the Orange Bowl, he had a game-best 6 tackles (including a 13-yard sack) and forced 2 fumbles (USC recovered 1 to set up a field goal).
2001: Originally a safety, Grootegoed was moved to strongside linebacker in 2001 fall camp and, when he was healthy, the redshirt freshman showed a knack for always being around the ball as the starter. However, he missed 4 games (Oregon and Stanford with a left shoulder sprain suffered against Kansas State and then UCLA and Utah after breaking his right lower leg at California). He started 7 games (San Jose State, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon State and California on the strong side and Kansas State on the weak side for an injured Frank Strong). Overall in 2001 while appearing in 8 games (he played briefly at Washington, but did not start), he had 32 tackles, including 8 for losses of 13 yards (with a 4-yard sack), a fumble recovery and 2 deflections. He was named to the 2001 The Sporting News Freshman All-American third team and The Sporting News Freshman All-Pac-10 first team.
He had 9 tackles (1 for a loss) against Kansas State, 7 stops (3 for losses) versus Arizona State, 7 tackles (2 for losses) and recovered a fumble to set up a USC field goal at Notre Dame and 5 stops (with a sack) and a deflection against Oregon State.
2000: Grootegoed, a reserve safety, appeared briefly on special teams in the Penn State opener (he did not make a tackle), but then came down with mononucleosis and was sidelined for the rest of his 2000 freshman season. Because of the early illness, he was allowed to redshirt in 2000, his first year at USC.
HIGH SCHOOL: He was named to the 1999 USA Today All-USA first team, Parade All-American, Super Prep All-American, Prep Star All-American, Reebok ESPN All-American, The Sporting News Top 101, Prep Star Top 100 Dream Team, Tom Lemming Top 100, Prep Star Western Super 30, Super Prep All-Farwest, Tom Lemming All-West, Long Beach Press-Telegram Best in the West first team, Orange County Register Fab 15 first team, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, Las Vegas Sun Super 11 first team, Cal-Hi Sports All-State first team, All-CIF Southern Section first team, All-CIF Division I Co-Defensive MVP, Los Angeles Times Glenn Davis Award (as the top Southern California prep football player), Los Angeles Times All-Orange County first team, Orange County Register All-Orange County Defensive MVP and All-Serra League MVP as a senior at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana (Calif.). He made 138 tackles, 6 interceptions (2 were returned for TDs), 7 tackles for losses and 2 forced fumbles as a free safety and ran for 945 yards on 116 carries (8.1 avg) with 14 TDs as a running back (he also played some quarterback early in the season, completing 21-of-41 passes, 51.2%, for 300-plus yards) in 1999. Mater Dei was the CIF Division I co-champion.
As a junior in 1998, he made Student Sports Junior All-American, Cal-Hi All-State first team, All-CIF Southern Section first team, All-CIF Division I Defensive MVP, Los Angeles Times All-Orange County Back of the Year and Orange County Register All-Orange County Defensive MVP. He rushed for more than 1,600 yards with 21 TDs on offense and made 130 tackles, 6 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions on defense in 1998. In the 1998 CIF Division I championship game, which Mater Dei won, he earned Offensive and Defensive Player of the Game honors (he ran for 244 yards, with a 7.4 average, and 2 TDs).
As a 1997 sophomore, he made the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Sophomore first team. He played in 4 CIF championship games in his career, winning 3 of them. Current Trojans Matt Leinart and Will Collins also went to at Mater Dei.
PERSONAL: He's a public policy and management major at USC. In his spare time, he likes to fish. As a 10-year-old, he was a finalist in the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition. His brother, John, was an offensive guard at San Jose State in 1994 and 1995.
MATT GROOTEGOED ON: His low-key approach: "I'm not a flashy guy. I just do my job. If I do something good, that's what I'm supposed to do...You won't see me doing a little dance or high-stepping. I would probably fall over."
Stats: "I don't count how many tackles I make. I count how many missed tackles I have."
His breakout season in 2002: "I didn't change anything or try to do anything crazy. I just played more freely. I wasn't scared to make mistakes anymore. I was confident...Finally, things started to go my way. Hopefully, they'll keep on going my way because with the amount of bad luck I've had, I'd better get some good luck...But I don't want to be happy too much because you never know what could happen. I just take one week at a time and try not to think about what could happen. I just want to play."
Compensating for his lack of size: "I try to make a little move before those big guys can even get out of their stance. It gives me an edge so they can't get their hands on me."
Switching from safety to linebacker in 2001: "My first reaction was that I would play anywhere as long as I could get on the field. But for the first couple of days, I was lost...For me, I knew (2-time All-American) Troy Polamalu, a really good player, was starting at strong safety, and I'd have to play behind him all season. So when they told me there was an opening somewhere else, I felt maybe this was a good break...It gave me a chance to blitz and do some things I'd never done before. You know, kind of like (ex-Trojan) David Gibson did at this position a couple of years ago. Make a couple of sacks so everyone can see them. That's kind of fun...The change suited me. I'm more of a physical, hit-you-in-the-face player...Eventually, I might want to switch back to strong safety. In think that's my natural position. I think that's where my future is. (NFL star) John Lynch is my prototype. I watch him on film whenever I can. I try to emulate him on the field."
Redshirting because of an early illness in 2000: "It was really frustrating. I wanted to be playing football, not standing on the sideline watching it...I was real excited going into the season and even got in for a few plays in the opener. But then I got sick right after that. I was really bummed. After that, I just felt left out of the whole season...It was really difficult. I couldn't go to meetings or practice because I was contagious. I didn't feel like I was part of the team....The only time I really showed up was for games. No one knew where I was the whole week because I'd be in my room sleeping an dthen going to class. Then, I'd show up from the games and they'd say, 'Where'd he come from?'...I came back for winter conditioning and it was like, 'Who is this guy?' Some of the guys were calling me 'Ghost' because I was gone and then just showed up again."
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
USC head coach Pete Carroll: "Things just happen when he's on the field. He knocks the ball down, knocks the ball loose, forces plays in the backfield and makes plays getting off blocks. You can't hold him down."
Former USC 2-time All-American safety Troy Polamalu: "Playing with him is like having a twin on the other side of the field...He's better than I am, he just hasn't had the platform yet. As soon as he gets it, everybody is going to see because he has everything it takes...If they put him in my position (strong safety), he'd win the Thorpe Award or he might even be the defensive player of the year."
USC tight end Alex Holmes: "He doesn't look like he's super athletic or super strong, but he's both. Plus, he's low to the ground so he's a much harder guy to block than a taller linebacker."
Former USC cornerback Darrell Rideaux: "He's quieter than a churchhouse mouse. But he's definitely a presence on the field."
GAME-BY-GAME WITH MATT GROOTEGOED