Hroniss Grasu is a warrior, a 6-3, 294-lb. Romanian strongman who has started every game of his Oregon career.
The center who took over for Max Unger and Jordan Holmes has been the anchor of the Webfoot line for 27 straight games, debuting on the road against LSU in Cowboys Stadium as a redshirt freshman. The Ducks lost that night, but Grasu performed admirably on college football’s Prime Time opening night, working against the monstrous, athletic defensive line of the Bayou Bengals before 80,000 people and a record television audience in a clash of #3 versus #4.
Point and shoot: Grasu has matured into the vocal leader of the offensive line, named to the Watch List for the Rimington Award for the past two seasons. (Don Ryan, AP photo)
He typifies the Oregon philosophy for linemen in that he’s smart, (3.4 GPA in high school, with a 1770 SAT) strong (485-lb. squat) and athletic (tied for first on the team among linemen in both L-run and shuttle), able to lead block and roam to the second level, agile enough to get out in front of explosive backs like De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner.
As a sophomore, he was chosen by league coaches as the All-PAC-12 center, the best in the conference.
Remarkably, Hroniss didn’t start playing football until he was a freshman in high school. His parents immigrated from Communist-dominated Romania in the ’80s, opening a pizzeria in the Los Angeles area. They were suspicious of the American game and insisted the boys play soccer and basketball.
His older brother Nico tried out for the Crespi High varsity and became an All-League field goal kicker, so when Hroniss tried out, he was a kicker too.
He told Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal,
I wanted to do what my brother did so I started out kicking because of my soccer background. My freshman year in high school I was a kicker and people said I should try offensive line because I was kind of big.
“I kind of tried offensive line out without letting them know. They found out the first game they came to and they weren’t too happy about it, but they got over it.
Their parents became huge fans, and now go to every game, home or away. Nico won a scholarship to Washington State, starting kicker for the Cougars for three seasons. He’s now back in L.A. and finishing up a degree in Hospitality Management.
Hroniss played three years as the starting center on the Crespi varsity, all-state on a state-final team as a sophomore, all-league as a junior and senior. Former Duck Bryan Bennett was his quarterback.
Coming out of high school Oregon’s #55 was the 9th-best center in the country. He’d played both ways for Crespi, with 68 tackles and 8 sacks as a defensive end in his last two seasons.
Articulate and thoughtful, Grasu has become a fixture in the post-practice interviews, a player reporters look to for a sound bite on the focus of the team and its progress:
On the field, Hroniss directs traffic and makes the line calls for Oregon’s offense, and he sets the pace with ferocious blocking at the point of attack. Take a look at these highlights, but don’t watch the ball. Watch how many times #55 lays down a crunching block that springs the play for a big gain:
At the Fiesta Bowl, Grasu told reporters, “I love playing in this offense. The guys I get to play with… it’s like watching a video game in real life with some of the stuff they do.”