Photos of Ben Grubbs at 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. (New Orleans Saints photos)
Credit Ben Grubbs for a willingness to be adventurous last summer despite a real, logical reason for concern. The New Orleans Saints' Pro Bowl left guard brushed that aside for a worthy community service event.
"Our chaplain here invited a few of us to go along with him for a mission trip to Angola prison," Grubbs said. "All the guys that he invited, they weren't able to make it and I was trying to find every reason not to go. I've never been to a prison before and there were some things that were kind of unsettling, of course.
"But I decided to go and it was probably one of the best trips I've ever participated in. Just to see the guys there serve the Lord – being in the situation that they're in, you would think that they have nothing to live for. But they look at it in the complete opposite way – they have everything to live for because they gave their life to Christ. Even though they may die, they know that they will live eternally.
"Initially, they looked at me as Ben Grubbs the football player. When they introduced me, they all started screaming because they're huge Saints fans. That kind of broke the ice for me. Then I gave my testimony and they got a glimpse of who Ben Grubbs really is. They saw me as a Christian, and as a father, as a husband and they respected that."
But then, taking chances – and being pleased with the outcome – isn't necessarily a foreign concept for Grubbs. Now in his third season with the Saints, and eighth overall, Grubbs was a five-year starter with the Baltimore Ravens – tonight's opponent for the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – before signing with the Saints as a free agent in 2012.
And despite the fact that the Ravens won the Super Bowl that season, and the Saints are 4-6 this season, Grubbs said he has no regrets.
"It's been great playing for Coach (Sean) Payton," he said. "It's been great playing in an offense such as the Saints. When you have a leader like (quarterback) Drew Brees steering this ship, you're going to go in the right direction. I just wanted to be a part of something great.
"When I came here I felt like it was the right decision to make. The year that I left was the year Baltimore won the Super Bowl, and people ask me, 'Do you regret it?' I don't regret it at all. I'm happy for my boys that got the ring, but I believe that I can get one here. I believe that this is where I needed to be. I'm definitely happy with the decision I made, I'm happy with where I'm at.
"This year has been rocky. There have been ups and downs, but it's not over. We've still got everything out in front of us. I believe that we can still win our division and go all the way. You look at the teams that did it (from the Wild Card playoff game) – the Ravens come to mind, the New York Giants come to mind. So when you think about that, you're like, 'Why not us?' So all the goals that we wanted to accomplish initially are still out in front of us. I still have joy and I'm still confident that we can get the job done."
Getting the job done is what Grubbs has been all about.
The two-time Pro Bowler (including 2011 with the Ravens) was a linebacker and fullback during his prep career at Elmore County High School in Eclectic, Ala. He figured he'd be playing defense when he signed with Auburn, but the Tigers coaching staff saw in Grubbs the same thing that his high school coach saw.
"When I committed to Auburn, my high school coach said, 'You're going to be an offensive lineman one day,' " Grubbs said. "I was like, 'No way.' I was like, 'I'm going to be the next Ray Lewis.' And after one year I came back to my high school and I saw my coach, and he said, 'You see, I told you.' "
Still, it took a circuitous route for Grubbs to wind up on the offensive line.
"That was the first year I played offensive guard and the road I took was a little different than a lot of my boys here. (Saints right tackle) Zach (Strief) was always an offensive lineman. (Right guard) Jahri (Evans) was always an offensive lineman. I started out at linebacker and fullback in high school. Then in college, I was recruited as a defensive end. Then I went to defensive tackle. Then I moved to tight end. Then I started three years at Auburn as an offensive guard. So the road for me was a little different but I ended up here and this is where God wanted me.
"Playing linebacker in high school, it was kind of hard for me to take that request (to move to offensive line) in at that time. I was the guy that everybody looked up to in high school. I was the one that signed the Division I scholarship – that didn't happen where I was from. So I thought that was going to be my ticket out, to be a linebacker.
"But as I got older, playing football at Auburn, playing defense didn't work out for me. It was at a point where I was about to give it up, that's how bad it was. So when Coach came to me and was like, 'We want to try you at tight end,' I was like, 'Sure, I'll try anything.' I did so well at tight end that the offensive line coach was like, 'If you move to offensive guard, I promise you a starting position.'
"So for me, it was like a last resort. I didn't come saying I want to be an offensive guard. I came in saying, 'I just want to play. Wherever you've got an opening for me, that's where I want to be.' I looked at playing offensive line as an opportunity, and it worked out for me."
The move has led to a productive professional career for Grubbs. Tonight, he gets an opportunity to play against his former team, and several former teammates, for the first time.
"I still know a few guys over there," he said. "I still keep in contact with the right guard, Marshal Yanda. He's a close friend of mine.
"It's going to be good to see those guys again, but first things first. It's business. We're going into the game with a mindset to win and I just know I have to do my part and I will continue to put my best foot forward. After the game, then I'll hug and wish them well."
And he'll continue relishing the chances he has taken, including the one he took that brought him to New Orleans.