A product by way of the small town of East Troy, Wisconsin, Justin Growel’s track to stardom came via the path less traveled. An enticing blend of power and speed with ideal measurables to burst off the edge, his skill set could hold the key to this spring’s most unique draft journey.
As we’ve seen over the last few cycles, the crop of FCS talent currently making waves in the NFL has been nothing to slouch at. From Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois), Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa), and Trey Lance (North Dakota State), the pipeline of non-FBS athletes has become as fruitful a tree to pick from since the dawn of the Football Championship Subdivision’s (FCS) creation some 43 years ago. A league often highlighted by the powerhouse programs in the Dakotas, headlined by Lance’s Bison, Growel, a former Division II standout, has drawn scouts’ attention this fall.
On pace to shatter the DII record for the most TFLs in history, Growel cut his five-year career at Lake Erie College short. Following a COVID-impacted 2020 campaign that saw him compete in just three games, Growel opted to use his extra year of eligibility by transferring to Eastern Illinois, a program most famously known for its representation of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garropolo’s collegiate home.
A 6-foot-4, 260-pound defender who seemingly plays with much less sand in his pants due to his explosiveness off the edge, Growel’s elite production at Lake Erie pops off the screen. The all-time conference (GMAC) leader in TFLs for a career with film littered with quarterback pressures and burst as a 5-technique, it’s hard to process that Growel only began playing football during his senior year of high school. A prospect whose days as a hardwood standout are evident due to his elite stamina and ability to flip his hips to remain in front of ball-carriers, coupling his enticing traits as a defender with a truly unrelenting motor, Growel’s engine never runs out of gas.
A former top-50 basketball recruit in the state of Wisconsin as a sophomore, Growel’s relationship with football, and on the edge, remains in the honeymoon stages. While he has a ways to go in developing fundamentally, in a day in age where teams and executives remain on the prowl for the “next big thing” no one is talking about, it’s become hard to ignore the success of Growel over the past handful of campaigns.
Despite EIU finishing 1-10, scouts slowly began to journey their way to the cozy confines of Charleston, Illinois for a chance to see Growel up close and personal this fall. A draft expected to contain high-level value from the opening selection to the anointment of “Mr. Irrelevant”, Growel has quickly become one of the circuit's most intriguing defensive prospects out of the FCS.
If there are two things in football you can’t teach, it’s size and effort. For Growel, a talent who faced double and triple teams at times during his collegiate career, production is production, no matter how hard or easy it may be to achieve. While his numbers failed to match up this year with the success he enjoyed at Lake Erie—and while you could attribute it to bigger, quicker, linemen Growel was tasked with breaking down each and every week—he remains a long-term project potentially worth the investment if all comes to fruition.
A 2019 DII All-American whose background as a two-sport athlete is reminiscent of many of today’s most impactful players, all Growel needs is a chance to compete. A small-school, high-motor prospect with traits to develop and a hunger for wreaking havoc in opposing backfields, his continued development could represent this spring’s diamond in the rough.