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Grasu says it's a 'blessing' to play one more Ducks season

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF GEOFF THURNER - Center Hroniss Grasu (second from left) eschewed early entry into the NFL draft and returned to the Oregon Ducks with the likes of quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.EUGENE — Hroniss Grasu wasn’t just some football player taking classes to stay eligible, walking around the University of Oregon campus making sure everybody recognized him in his splashy Duck gear and representing himself as Big Man On Campus.

That wasn’t him. He took school seriously, tried to fit in — despite being 6-3 and about 300 pounds — and liked the college atmosphere. His emphasis was applied business economics because, if and when his football career ends (perhaps after an NFL run), Grasu could join the family business of restaurant and real estate in Los Angeles.

Granted, his college career continues with the Ducks, but school should be referenced in the past tense — he has a degree, and he’ll take yoga and golf just because the NCAA requires all players to take classes.

Like Grasu, quarterback Marcus Mariota and defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu also opted to return for another year of college ball, rather than enter the NFL draft. Grasu said it was because of team and teammates — and simply to be a college kid for one more year.

“I never liked to really show that I’m an Oregon football player,” says Grasu, a fifth-year senior and four-year starter who turned 23 on Aug. 12. “I wanted to show up as a regular student. I’m a regular student on campus, a nobody.

“I truly enjoyed school here, and I learned a lot ... I take the restaurant business and real estate very seriously, and football is always going to be there. That’s why I took these classes and really enjoyed them. I’m still reading more books and learning as much as I can.”

His parents, Steve and Mariana, emigrated from Romania, and they’ve run Greco’s New York Pizza on Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. since the early 1980s. Grasu can’t mention the restaurant name — possible NCAA violation as an endorsement — but he says he proudly works at the pizzeria, and helps manage family properties, during his off time from football.

Then again, off time from football doesn’t really exist for an aspiring All-American and NFL player. He and Mariota and Ekpre-Olomu are just some of the players who give the Ducks hopes of winning the Pac-12 Conference and earning a spot in the first NCAA football playoff.

Like Mariota, Grasu remains humble about the Ducks’ national title hopes, at least publicly. “I think about if we get better every single day in camp and worry about camp and getting everybody ready to play, then focus on game by game, everything will take care of itself,” he says.

Grasu anchors an offensive line that saw five returning starters enter camp, a number that has dropped to four with left tackle Tyler Johnstone’s supposedly season-ending knee injury. The Ducks will be working to find another O-lineman to play with Grasu, returning guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt and right tackle Jake Fisher. It’ll likely be Andre Yruretagoyena.

Grasu, from Crespi High in L.A., has started all 40 games of his UO career. He’ll be counted on to be a leader, and wants to continue to get better at his position.

After the 2013 regular season, there was much speculation about whether Mariota would enter the NFL draft. Both Mariota and Grasu, collectively, talked about their decisions to stay put for another year. They downplay the “unfinished business” thing.

Rather, Grasu says of his decision, “It was all about the team. Just having another year with this team. There’s nothing like it. It’s truly a blessing to be able to play for this team, and use all the facilities, and to wear the ‘O’ on your chest is a big deal. ...

“What we’ve got to do as leaders now is mentor the young guys to not just come to wear the Oregon ‘O’ and win games, but show them how hard you have to work and earn that reputation as an Oregon Duck.”

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