When it comes to perseverance, Prospect’s DePalma is truly gifted
A lot of kids currently dreaming of playing high-level college sports ultimately realize they may not possess all of the necessary athletic gifts to make it happen.But it was Santa Claus himself who delivered one of the best Christmas gifts Grant DePalma ever received.DePalma was the epitome of the Prospect football program’s success in the first decade of the 21st century. An all-area linebacker who was long on heart and smarts. But at 5-feet-9, he was literally short on the measureables that attract rave reviews from big-time recruiting analysts and the constant attention of Division I powerhouses.Yet, just one year ago, DePalma was sitting in a meeting room at Western Michigan University with the football team when Santa Claus (played by graduate assistant coach D.J. Pirkle) entered with a gift. He gave it to linebacker Austin Lewis, who unwrapped it and announced, “It’s a scholarship for Grant DePalma.”The room erupted and players engulfed and then lifted the still 5-9 but now 218-pound DePalma on their shoulders in celebration. That was followed by a heartfelt speech from head coach P.J. Fleck on how DePalma’s leap of faith to try out for the Broncos paid huge dividends for the football program and himself.“I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know when or how,” DePalma said of the scholarship after he started as a junior walk-on middle linebacker. “I had no idea.“The biggest part of the experience was how excited the rest of my teammates got. Understanding how much I meant to the team and feeling all of that emotion.”For the second straight year, DePalma will start in a postseason game when Western Michigan faces Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau on Christmas Eve (11 a.m. Chicago time on ESPN). A gnawing feeling he had helped him drive a program into the history books with its first back-to-back bowl trips and a share of its first Mid-American Conference West Division title since 2000.Great start, greater aspirationsGrant DePalma was a two-time Daily Herald All-Area pick for Prospect teams that reached the second round of the state playoffs. He also played basketball and was an excellent student who wanted to study engineering.He said he looked a lot of Ivy League schools. He considered Drake, a non-scholarship Division I school, but it didn’t have an engineering program.So, DePalma ended up at Division III Rose-Hulman, one of the country’s top engineering schools in Terre Haute, Ind. He knew he would get to play right away and he started as a freshman. As a sophomore in 2012 he was the team MVP and a first-team all-conference pick with 100 tackles and 14½ stops for loss.But after a pair of 5-5 seasons, DePalma believed there was something bigger and better out there for him.“Obviously I love football more than anything and I love playing,” DePalma said. “After proving to myself I could play as well as I did, I knew I could play Division I football.“(Rose-Hulman) wasn’t as serious as I needed it to be. I had connections in Chicago for a job and they have a great engineering program here at Western Michigan, so I took a chance and believed in myself I could do it.”DePalma believed he could do it coming out of Prospect. But his size was a deterrent at a level that is truly serious business.Early in his sophomore season he knew he could make the jump. Former Prospect coach Brent Pearlman, now at Wheeling, helped a lot by making calls.DePalma eventually decided on rebuilding Western Michigan. He had to go through a one-day walk-on tryout with about 20 players there and found out the next day he got a scout-team slot while he redshirted.“Just getting an opportunity was my main focus at that point,” DePalma said of sitting out his first year at Western Michigan.