Devon Grousis-Henderson had lost the fire to play professional soccer. He was going to hang up his cleats and focus on a web development company he started.
But when his friend and former teammate, Cyprian Hedrick, was drafted by Sporting Kansas City in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft in January, the competitive fire inside Grousis-Henderson was reignited as well.
“I always told him the summer before his senior year that he was going to get drafted out of Coastal Carolina,” Grousis-Henderson, a 2006 Shawnee Mission North graduate, said about Hedrick. “We always joked about it, but I knew he was a strong player, who had the desire to get better. That’s what the MLS needs.”
Of course, Grousis-Henderson always harbored the same dream, but unlike Hedrick — who had a fairytale start to his pro career when Sporting KC took a chance on him despite the fact he wasn’t even invited to the MLS combine — Grousis-Henderson found the road riddled with potholes.
Grousis-Henderson, a Fresno native who moved to Johnson County in 2003, had trials before in England (where he was denied a work visa and had to return to the U.S.) and Greece, where his mother is from. But that opportunity didn’t pan out either.
“The ball seemed like it was never going to bounce the right way for me,” Grousis-Henderson said. “My desire had gone away a little bit and I was ready to hang up my cleats, but then Cyprian got drafted and that motivated me again.”
This week, Grousis-Henderson signed with the second-division Charlotte Eagles. He’ll play in the same league as the Richmond Kickers team that handed Sporting KC its first loss at Livestrong Sporting Park during last season’s U.S. Open Cup.
“It was motivation for him once I got drafted, because he’s a pretty close friend of mine and he’s seen my transformation and how things can change for you quickly,” Hedrick said. “He’s had opportunities in England and Greece, but he was ready to hang it up at one point, and I gave him that little extra motivation to keep going and keep searching.”
Grousis-Henderson and Hedrick met in 2009 when they became teammates with the Fresno (Calif.) Fuego in the Professional Development League, a fourth-division amateur soccer association primarily used as a summer stop for top-tier college talent.
“At first when I got out there, I didn’t know anybody, but we clicked right off the bat,” Hedrick said.
“I got in with his family and his mom (Francesa) seemed to really like me. They let me move in with them and I really liked it out there, so after that first summer I wanted to go back and stay with his family again.”
The two formed a brotherly, competitive bond as defenders with the Fuego.
Grousis-Henderson had always been Hedrick’s biggest champion when it came to his MLS ambition, and now Hedrick serves as inspiration for his friend’s drive toward the same goal.
“I was just going to play PDL and finish my career that way,” Grousis-Henderson said. “I got an invitation to go to a San Jose Earthquakes tryout, but I was going to concentrate on my business instead. But when Cyp got drafted I decided I couldn’t let him show me up.”
He accepted the Earthquakes’ offer and spent the preseason playing the current Western Conference leaders before being one of the last players trimmed from the regular-season roster.
Still, that was close enough to justify a cross-country trek in pursuit of a pro soccer career.
“It’s crazy how it worked out, but this is where God put me and decided to give it my best effort, because I didn’t want to have any regrets that I didn’t make the most of every opportunity,” Grousis-Henderson said.