NFL alum Jordan Gross, a three-time Pro Bowl tackle, never expected to become his high school alma mater’s head football coach when he retired from the Carolina Panthers in 2014.
When he and his wife Dana returned to Fruitland, Idaho (population 6,400) where he had been raised, they focused on his farm by growing market vegetables for distribution through the town’s Community-Supported Agriculture outlet. Gross also co-founded a food-truck partnership called Hitchcock Station. He coincidentally is the landlord of the property where Hitchcock Station is currently located.
“We wanted to have a cool place downtown for people to be able to gather,” says Gross, who spent his entire career with the Panthers. “It’s neat to see what Hitchcock Station has come to. Anything that we can do in this community is a meaningful way to spend our time.”
When the head football coach at Fruitland High suddenly stepped down last summer, Gross filled the void despite not having any coaching experience.
“It’s funny how the position came upon me,” Gross explains, “because I never applied for the job. The way it turned out, I just ended up taking it over and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s really enjoyable. This is my first off-season getting to be the head guy and handling the job the way I see best. Once I was put in charge, I was all in and had a blast trying to give these kids everything I could and lead them to be not only better football players, but better men.”
Gross, 42, knows a little bit about leadership. After being the Panther’s first-round draft choice out of Utah in 2003, he played in– and started– 167 games at either right or left tackle during his 11-year NFL career in Carolina. He was a team leader throughout his career and was inducted into the Panthers Hall of Honor in 2019. For now, Gross is comfortable being back in Idaho and living in Fruitland, 50 miles west of Boise.
“I think Fruitland is, maybe not a hidden gem, but a special place and a surprisingly diverse community,” says Gross, who also has handled some broadcast chores during his post-playing days. “The history of this town is one where there’s been success and quality over the years, whether it’s athletics, band, or various clubs. There’s just been a lot of quality people that have come through here. I believe at the heart of it that people who live here want Fruitland to do well.”
Not every NFL player is born in the rural South nor raised in a large urban environment. Players such as Jordan Gross add to the diversity of the league where playing ability is the deciding factor whether you make—and stay on—an NFL roster. We at NFL Alumni would not have it any other way.