Devon Grubbs was just a freshman when he was called upon to lead the backfield for the Desert Vista football program near the midway point of the 2019 season.
His older brother, Tyson, a junior running back at the time, was sidelined after just five games for the Thunder due to a broken bone in his foot that eventually resulted in surgery. Against Boulder Creek in week 6, the younger Grubbs showed why he would be regarded as one of the top players in the state.
He rushed for a career-high 237 yards on just five carries. He scored five touchdowns in Desert Vista’s 66-23 win. After the game, he and Tyson embraced one another. Tears began to fall from both of their eyes.
“I’m happy he can represent our family,” Tyson said in 2019. “We’ve always worked hard. Our parents have taught us to work hard. Even though I’m out, he’s able to show how hard we strive for what we want.”
Tyson went on to play another year at Desert Vista before signing with Norther Arizona where he remains to this day. His younger brother, now preparing to enter his senior season, has had more flashes of great plays while transitioning from running back to defensive back for the Thunder.
But just like it did for Tyson, the injury bug has limited him in his last two seasons.
He missed one game in 2019, the year he found himself mostly playing defense with Tyson and current Northern Arizona defensive back Colby Humphrey taking most of the touches out of the backfield. In 2020, the year Desert Vista only played six games due to the pandemic, Grubbs battled through a groin injury most of the year before missing the Thunder’s final two games of the season while in a walking boot.
Now a 6-foot, 194-pound senior who will primarily play defense at the safety position, he hopes to re-establish himself as one of the top players in the state.
“Injuries and being injury-prone is a big part of recruiting,” said Grubbs, who has offers from Arizona State, Arizona, Northern Arizona and Air Force. “I have to show all the coaches I can go a full season without injury and a successful one.”
Last year, despite not being 100 percent, Grubbs provided a spark to the Desert Vista offense and defense. His explosiveness through the hole with the ball in his hands often caught opponents off guard.
While his stats from the Thunder’s Week 3 matchup against Basha don’t jump off the page — he had six carries for 57 yards and a touchdown — he was primarily responsible for Desert Vista finding the ability to move the ball down the field early on.
On defense, his speed and natural ball skills motivated the rest of Desert Vista’s young secondary. He filled running lanes and often went head-to-head with Basha’s bigger running backs and dropped back into pass coverage in an attempt to limit the Bears’ similarly young but high-powered offense.
He often limped to the sideline because of his groin, however. At one point, he had to seclude himself from the team to receive treatment in order to continue playing. He led the team in tackles that night with 19 — 12 of which solo.
“I like to listen to the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,’” Grubbs said. “It tested my mentality. If I know I can go through injury and bounce back even stronger, it boosts my confidence.”
While Grubbs has been leaned upon for his abilities on the field, it’s his leadership skills off of it he has continued to develop despite his own hardships.
He was one of the go-to players for the likes of Jackson Akins, Michael Allison and Quentin Ivey — all of whom sophomores competing at and starting at the varsity level for the first time. It was a steep learning curve for the Thunder, which had a team full of young talent trying to navigate through one of the most difficult seasons in Arizona high school football history.
But Grubbs was always there to help lead the way. And this upcoming season will be no different.
“I expect Devon to be Devon,” first-year Desert Vista coach Ty Wisdom said. “I don’t want him to put too much pressure on himself and enjoy his senior season. We all know his talents. We are very fortunate to have a player like him who leads this program in a great way.”
When former Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds announced his retirement after the 2020 season, Grubbs and his family hoped the Thunder would bring in a coach that would further help him develop. They also hoped the offensive and defensive schemes would, in a way, cater to his style of play.
Elliott Grubbs, Devon’s father, was part of the hiring committee that eventually chose Wisdom to become the program’s third-ever head coach. Wisdom’s resume spoke for itself. He turned around a struggling Horizon program and led it to the Open Division playoffs in 2019.
Grubbs now hopes Wisdom will be able to do the same for Desert Vista in his first season. He knows it won’t be easy, but he aims to do whatever it takes as one of the senior captains to lead the Thunder in such a way where there is improvement on a daily basis.
“It’s my senior year, I have nothing to lose,” Grubbs said. “Everything has been building up to this point. I have to prove myself to everyone.”