INDIANAPOLIS — When Cameron McGrone was 8 years old, his mother, Lynn Redd, asked him if he wanted to sign up for a local youth football league. He said no.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t want to hit people. I want to play nice sports,’ ” Redd recalled.
McGrone and his grandfather, James Lee McGrone, bonded over golf, whether it was playing a round of miniature golf, taking swings at a local driving range or watching the PGA Tour on television.
But when Cameron saw his grandfather watching football with David Redd, who married his mother and became his father, his feelings began to change toward the sport. Football helped him bond with his grandfather and his father.
“My father died when Cameron was 13, but he was Cameron’s biggest fan,” Lynn said. “They had such similar personalities, both so soft-spoken but thoughtful. And Cameron’s middle name is James. Every day, he carries his grandfather with him.”
He will at Michigan, too, after committing in 2017 as a 4-star linebacker.
Lynn raised McGrone with the help of her parents until he was 7 as she finished her college degree and worked for the city of Indianapolis as a crime scene investigator. She is now a forensic scientist for the state of Indiana.
On nights when she worked the third shift, her parents took on babysitting roles or picked up McGrone from elementary school. When Lynn started dating David, whom she married in 2008, she noticed that her son watched football with the two men.
“Coming into the situation, my wife wanted us to be able to develop a bond, kind of like what me and my nephews had,” said David, who is a quality lab inspector with Superior Metal Technologies. “The one way I thought it would make the transition easy was with football. I love football, and I knew if Cameron was able to see how me and my nephews interact with football, that maybe it would make things easier for him.”
David, however, learned quickly that McGrone wasn’t a huge fan of watching football. He watched games with David and James, but he wasn’t engaged. He preferred playing handheld video games or doing homework.
David thought of another plan: Sign Cameron up for football.
Even when McGrone was on the field as a third-grader, David noticed how he took to the sport. McGrone, then 9, was soft-spoken and cerebral off the field, but competitive and intense on the field.
“He was like night and day when it comes to being on the field and being off the field,” David said. “It was a shock to me, to see him play football, but I was really happy he took to that.”
David also remembers how Cameron’s grandfather stood on the sidelines, beaming with pride. But McGrone’s grandfather only watched him play football for a short time. James Lee McGrone died of cancer when his grandson was in the eighth grade.
“He was my role model,” Cameron said. “He took me golfing. He took me fishing. We went for car rides. Just talking and listening to music. He and my dad really got me into football, when I was in third grade. Even just talking to him after football games and watching football in general. He was my guy.
“I love that man. And I miss him every day. Knowing all the things he did, it made me want to be like him.”
Lynn didn’t think her son was serious about football, though, until she met with high school coaches from Lawrence Central at her son’s school, Belzer Middle School, in Indianapolis. One coach told Lynn that as an eighth-grader, “He’s our star player.”
McGrone made the Lawrence Central High School varsity team as a freshman. But he didn’t play, and that discouraged him. When he came home from games, frustrated with his lack of playing time, his mom told him, “Your time is coming. Wait your turn.”
Toward the end of his sophomore year, in which he made 36 tackles, McGrone saw that a classmate earned a scholarship as an undergraduate. That discouraged McGrone.
“I told him, again, ‘You’re just a sophomore, you have two more seasons,’ ” Lynn said. “But I didn’t know there were freshmen with 20 offers!”
He earned his first scholarship offer his sophomore year, in March 2016, from Syracuse. He went to camps over the summer, determined to get his name and his skills in front of more college coaches and college recruiters.
By the start of McGrone’s junior year, he had 10 scholarship offers and a plan: go to college, play football, become an All-American and earn a degree in engineering.
One of those plans changed on one play.
A recovery period
McGrone tore the ACL in his right knee in October 2016, in the last game of his junior year at Lawrence Central. But he wouldn’t let a major knee injury ruin his plans to play college football, even after he felt a pop in his knee and initially thought his football career was over.
He said he had sleepless nights over the injury, but also had countless conversations with his parents about surgery and the rehabilitation process.
David and Lynn reached out to orthopedic surgeons in the Indianapolis area to find the best options for surgery. In November 2016, McGrone underwent ACL reconstruction.
Immediately after he left the hospital, McGrone set a goal to return to football in six months. He set the goal to take part in The Opening, a national skills competition, in May 2017 in Oakland, Calif.
“The most difficult thing was enduring the pain of rehabilitation, the physical pain,” McGrone said. “But just knowing that pain for a few minutes would pay off down the road, that’s what I want to tell other athletes. What you put in, you get out of it.”
Along the way, McGrone thought of what his grandfather would have told him: Set goals for your recovery. Listen to the doctors. Don’t go beyond your limits.
“He learned how to persevere through adversity,” David said of his son. “I think he learned a lot about himself, as far as setting goals and being able to achieve them. He was able to get back on the school team and playing football, even better and faster than before.”
The injury opened another door for him. He originally wanted to go to college to study engineering, but rehabilitating the injury sparked his interest in physical therapy. He plans to study kinesiology at Michigan.
“One day, football will end,” McGrone said. “It’s inevitable. But I want to take that degree and become a physical therapist, so I can help kids who have similar injuries to me, get back and get better. That’s really my dream.”
More goals on the horizon
Will Patterson, Lawrence Central’s defensive coordinator, recently found a letter he had written with McGrone in 2014 that mapped out all the goals the player had set for high school.
Become a high school All-American. Earn all-conference and all-state honors. Earn a GPA of at least 3.8. Go to Stanford and play college football.
He reached all those goals, except going to Stanford. He visited Stanford, but found a better fit closer to home. He announced his commitment to Michigan in July 2017, then had 84 tackles, 14 for loss and 4 sacks in seven games as a senior at Lawrence Central.
“Cam is a grinder, and that’s his mentality with everything,” said Patterson, a former linebacker at Indiana. “He’s a tireless worker. His commitment to everything, from going to college, to rehabilitating a knee injury, to leading his team, making sure he didn’t miss a beat, that was a challenge. But he was committed to doing that. That showed for him, in his success.”
McGrone, a 4-star linebacker, moved to Ann Arbor earlier this month. He already has set goals to become All-Big Ten Conference and an All-American.
“I don’t know what I’m about to go into, honestly, but I’m not scared,” McGrone said. “I’m going to go in there, focus on football and focus on the books, and I’m going to have a great group of teammates to fall back on if I struggle a bit. We’re all going to be up there, going through the same thing.”
He already has the strength of his family, and the memory of his grandfather will propel him as he starts college at Michigan this summer.
“My grandfather emphasized the value of family to me,” McGrone said. “Because of him, I know my family always has my back. I know that I have that constant support. Every day, I want to give back to my family, with what I’ve been able to do in football.”
Cameron McGrone breakdown
|247Sports composite rank||No. 2 in Indiana, No. 7 linebacker nationally|
|Star rating||4 stars|
|Commitment date||July 31, 2017|