Souhegan’s Grondstra evolves from patient to All-Star

BEDFORD – Luuc Grondstra knew exactly where he was going when the group of high school football players went to visit patients at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD) a couple of months ago.

“I totally remembered the halls that we walked through, especially in the children’s hospital part,” said Grondstra, the recent Souhegan High School grad who was an All-State offensive lineman. “I remember seeing that as I was on the stretcher being pulled into the room for observation overnight. I remember seeing all the hallways, seeing the people next to me, having my Mom (Linda) next to me.

“Seeing that then (a couple of months ago), kind of gave me perspective on some of the other kids, who have something maybe a little bit worse than me, are dealing with this. They have to be stronger than I am to have to do that, which is amazing.”

That visit by the players who are participating in this Friday’s annual CHaD All-Star Game at Saint Anselm College was an eye-opener for many, but it just brought back a flood of memories for Grondstra, whose last visit there was as a patient when he was in the eighth grade.

Grondstra, you see, was diagnosed at age 11 with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammation that affects the lining of the digestive system, and also ulcerative colitis. He had been to CHaD twice, once because of an allergic reaction to a medication he was taking for Crohn’s, and another time for appendicitis.

And that history is why, perhaps unlike some of his West teammates, Grondstra set his sights on this game from the beginning of his senior year.

“I thought it was an awesome opportunity to play in this game,” Grondstra said. “When I figured out this was a game I could actually play in at the end of my senior year, I definitely worked at it and tried to get there.”

Well, Grondstra made it, and it’s a testament to just how far he’s come in his young life. When he was 11, he barely weighed 98 pounds because of his affliction. He had to obviously go without playing football for several years.

Now? He’s 6-foot-3, 297 pounds, and will be playing his college ball at ironically the site of Friday night’s annual All-Star Game.

“I started getting my (health) in order, starting taking the right medications and growing a lot,” Grondstra said. “My mom (Linda) went through more than I actually did. She was in so much angst watching me go through what I went through when I was younger.

“I kept telling her everything was going to be OK. There haven’t been known cases where people get seriously hurt from this, but it was still tough because from seeing my mom watching me go through it. It made me feel bad that she had to do that.”

Grondstra will have a special feeling on Friday night, but he really felt special when he first began to compete on the varsity at Souhegan.

“Once junior year rolled around and the coaches approached me about starting on the offensive line,” he said, “I immediately looked back freshman year, even eighth grade, and saw where I was and where I am now, and I was extremely proud I was able to step back on the field as a player – and to be a key player on a team.”

Grondstra’s Saber teammates, those who were aware of his medical history, were amazed at what he accomplished.

“I’ve been lucky to go to Luuc since first grade,” CHaD West teammate and former Saber fullback Tucker Aiello said. “He’s always been an awesome kid, great kid and friend of mine. He’s had his problems, what he’s struggled with. To seem him persevere – his strength is awesome – it makes you feel like you’re a stronger person being with him, being a friend of his. Just to see him go through it every day. Good football player – and a big guy, too.”

Before he sprouted, when he was younger, Grondstra played some tight end and defensive line. Being a lineman is what he loves.

“It’s super fun, obviously it’s a little different practice scheme,” he said, “for all of us. But it’s also tough because you know who you’re protecting and you’re the engine to the offense. You’re the driving component for that offense to move.”

But Grondstra doesn’t have to look far to find motivation to keep plugging away, seeing where he was seven years ago.

“Every time I think about it, it’s astounding,” he said. “To be doing great now. … When I was told by my coach I had not only been picked for this but was first-team All-State, I was ecstatic.”

He got a text from former Sabers coach Mike Lochman, who resigned after the season, that he was chosen for the CHaD Game, and he was “blown away.”

“I immediately told my mom and she gave me a big hug, and my dad (Pim) gave me a big hug.”

As for the future, Grondstra feels St. A’s is a perfect spot.

“The location was definitely a big thing,” he said. “It’s 30 minutes away from my house (he will be living on campus), so I enjoyed that. Just the atmosphere it gave off there. That (sealed) the deal. That’s what made me want to go there, because of the way they were looking at next year and the years beyond. I wanted to be a part of the process of rebuilding, rather than going to a team that’s already at the top tier.”

If you look at Grondstra’s size, you certainly see a football player. His development at St. A’s will likely determine whether he has a future beyond college in the game.

“I told my parents, I tell them a lot, even though they tell me academics is first, and I know that,” Grondstra said. “But I tell them if I get a chance to go beyond the college level, I’m going to take it, whether it’s a tryout (at the pro level) with team or a few tryouts or even be on a practice squad. I’m going to take that, and if it doesnt’t work out, I’ve got my schooling.”

And a deep appreciation for the ability to play football.