During the pre-draft process, a common question from NFL teams to prospects is to describe the toughest thing they have ever gone through.
For Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos that answer is not hard to figure out. Gross-Matos has been shaped by two tragedies early in his life. His father died when he drowned while saving Gross-Matos, who had fallen off a boat as a 2-year-old. Nine years later, his brother died after being struck by lightning.
“They just asked me about what’s the hardest thing I ever went through,” Gross-Matos said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “Obviously for me, that was losing my older brother at a young age. And my dad. Just dealing with that. I want to do something better for my family and my mother and that’s kind of how I approached it. That’s the reality of it.”
Gross-Matos now has a chance to honor his father and brother and help his mother, adoptive father and siblings with an NFL contract. At 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, he is considered one of the top edge-rushers in the draft, which begins April 23, projected to be a late first-round pick.
“It will be incredible. It’s already been incredible,” Gross-Matos said. “Even just making it to college. I had a great three years there at Penn State. It was everything I thought it would. Just to see how my life has turned out, and my career, it’s something not everyone dreams of. So I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to be in this situation, as well as my family. “
On May 6, 2000, Michael Gross dived into St. Leonard Creek in Maryland to save his 2-year-old son, who had fallen out of a boat. He managed to get the boy back to the boat, but he did not come back to the surface of the water. Divers recovered the 29-year-old’s body later that day.
Nine years later, his mother, Sakinah, had remarried and Robert Matos was coaching his adopted sons’ baseball team. On June 3, 2009, Yetur and his brother Chelal were on the baseball field when a storm approached. Everyone left the field, but Chelal went back to the field to throw a few more baseballs before the weather hit. Lightning struck the field, killing 12-year-old Chelal.
Yetur somehow managed to overcome these tragedies.
“I think the biggest thing is just staying positive throughout all the things that I’ve faced in my life,” Gross-Matos said. “And just keep working. Being sad and moping around is not going to change anything.”
Gross-Matos became a star football player in Spotsylvania, Va., and went to Penn State. He was a first-team All-Big 10 performer last year, registering 15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 40 total tackles.
He is now prepared to be a pro.