By Doug Kennedy
This is the story of a young woman who grew up on Durham Street in Kincardine, with her parents Brian and Brenda and sister Brittany, and ended up working in professional football.
Kirsten Grohs’ path to the National Football League is a long way from the one she was on as a teenager. As a high school student at KDSS, she modelled in Toronto with her mother by her side, and spent many weekends in the city working for the Elite Modelling Agency.
Brian and Brenda met in Kincardine at the old boys reunion in 1980 and moved from Guelph with their two girls in 1989. Kirsten and Brittany went to school at St. Anthony’s and KDSS. One of Kirsten’s best friends growing up was Andrea (Paquin) Trumble, and they are still good friends. Trumble remembers playing soccer and competing in track and field with her friend.
“Kirsten is a fun, loyal and really hard-working friend,” Trumble said last week. “The success she’s enjoyed hasn’t changed her at all over the years. She’s a mentor to a lot of young women who want to work one day in professional sports.”
Kirsten worked at the Bruce Inn for a few summers, starting in the kitchen at 15 and later becoming a server. The restaurant’s owner, Brad Kirkconnell, remembers her as a statuesque young woman with a great attitude and solid work ethic.
When she enrolled at Wilfrid Laurier University, she made the decision to drop modelling and focus on school. In her third year, she took up an offer from a friend to volunteer with the Golden Hawks football team. That came as a surprise to her family as both parents aren’t football fans, and Brittany – three years older than her sister – is a client operations director in medical education in London, England. She graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in bio-chemistry.
At the start, Kirsten’s main duty with the Golden Hawks was to film practices. Gary Jeffries, the legendary U Sports coach, was in charge of Laurier’s football program. Her job quickly grew into looking after team travel and working with the booster club. She credits Coach Jeffries for teaching her about the game, including giving her many football books to read. Jeffries was like a second father or grandfather to Kirsten as she learned the game.
After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier in 2013, she applied to the Ohio University College of Business program, but was interested in pursuing a job in professional sports. The university told her that a one-year internship was required before she could be accepted to its business school. With help from Coach Jeffries, Kirsten landed an internship with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. She spent 2010 and 2011 in Hamilton with the CFL team, starting as an unpaid intern and then moving into a full-time position as the football operations assistant.
During her two seasons in Hamilton, Kirsten met the Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. He and his wife took Kirsten under their wing and helped her in many aspects of her life, including spiritually.
“It’s hard for me today to find the words to describe how much they mean to me,” Kirsten said.
Kirsten graduated from Ohio University with a masters degree in the school’s highly acclaimed business administration and sports administration program in 2013. When it was time for her to find a job, she remembered something Coach Bellefeuille told her to remember when sending job applications, to include a $5 Starbucks gift card. Kirsten sent her resume and a $3 gift card to all 32 NFL teams. The San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars both contacted her, with the Jags flying her to Florida for an interview and then hiring her as an administrative assistant.
As was the case in Hamilton, it didn’t take long for Kirsten to impress the people around her. Within three months, she was promoted to a position to help with the team’s salary cap issues and contract analysis. Two years later, she became the Jaguars’ Manager of Football Administration. In that role, Kirsten travelled with the team and the road trips included two stops in London for the NFL’s European series, giving her a chance to spend time with her sister.
In 2017, Kirsten left Jacksonville for Thousand Oaks, California, and a project manager job at a sports academy for elite athletes known as “Disney World for Athletes”. The academy would eventually be purchased by the late Kobe Bryant and renamed the Mamba Sports Academy.
One year later, she returned to the NFL as a scouting co-ordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, reuniting her with assistant general manager Scott Pioli, whom she met while working for the Jaguars. Three months later, Kirsten was promoted to her current role as manager of football administration, reporting to GM Thomas Dimitroff. Like Kirsten, Dimitroff has ties to U Sports football, as a player with the Guelph Gryphons, during his university years. And that shared connection with Guelph was an icebreaker during her interview with Dimitroff, a highly respected NFL executive who’s created a strong family atmosphere inside the Falcons organization.
Like many of us managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirsten does her job from home these days, proofreading contracts and learning a new collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated between the players and owners last month. She’s also busy preparing for the NFL draft, which begins Thursday night and runs through Saturday. She also helps execute trades and helps work logistics in the WAR Room.
If professional sports are allowed to resume in 2020, the NFL south division will be a must-watch for league fans. Tom Brady is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, giving the division another superstar quarterback with Drew Brees in New Orleans. The Falcons, who lost to Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl, face a stiff test if this season happens.
Brenda and Brian have been to games in Jacksonville and Atlanta, getting a birds-eye view of America’s largest sports spectacle, thanks to sideline passes. They joke that the best seats in the house come from bringing their daughter Kraft peanut butter and Tim Hortons coffee when they visit.
Kirsten’s goal is to move into senior management and have a greater role in contract negotiations down the road, but she’s already accomplished a lot and has told her story at conferences around the U.S. and Canada. I’m working on having Kirsten come home to speak in the near future, and help raise money for charity.
Here’s to a wonderful ambassador for our town.
By Doug Kennedy