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Matt Grace and Sean Joiner: Teammates beyond the gridiron

Now coworkers and business partners, Matt and Sean met as freshman roommates and teammates

When Grace and Joiner were randomly paired as freshman roommates in 2001, no one could have predicted the friendship that would develop, much less the business relationship that would follow.

“A lot of people, even our teammates, assumed we had known each other for years,” Grace recalled. “We became fast friends. We were pretty much tied at the hip, and if it wasn’t for our wives, we would still probably be roommates today.”

While they no longer share campus housing or seats on the football team bus, they are still teammates. Now it’s in the office. And the teamwork they displayed as Catholic University Cardinals is even more evident in their business partnership.

Grace and Joiner work for the same financial management company and, as they dreamed about in college, also develop and manage rental properties together on the side.

Sean Joiner and Matt Grace

Their first attempt to launch a business of sorts failed before it got off the ground. In college, Grace and Joiner saw an opportunity to become young entrepreneurs and planned to buy a dilapidated house near campus. They wanted to restore it and rent it out while living in it themselves. Their parents shut down their plan, but the idea never died.

“Our parents quickly told us to focus on being student-athletes and not entrepreneurs,” Joiner said.  “That house was remodeled by someone else a year later and today is worth a lot of money.”

Not long after they graduated, their entrepreneurial spirit was rekindled. Trusting one another as they did on the football field, Grace and Joiner took a calculated risk and bought and developed their first rental property. That was just the start. Today they own six rental properties in Washington, D.C.

Grace and Joiner got creative with one of their rental properties: They used 18 recycled shipping containers as the framing for a three-story apartment complex. Their goal was to build “something unique, something that stood out,” and the futuristic jigsaw building with large windows installed at each end of what once were shipping containers looks avant- garde, especially amid the historic buildings of the nation’s capital nearby. They named it SeaAU, as a play on words honoring their alma mater.

Their creativity garnered them more success than they even expected. In May, SeaAU was named among the best real estate deals of 2014 in Washington, D.C. by the Washington Business Journal.

The square footage is attractive for city dwellers, with each apartment nearly 1,800 square feet with six bedrooms, six accompanying bathrooms, a central living space, a kitchen and 9-foot ceilings. Also, the use of recycled materials draws people in.

Grace and Joiner have been successful in their full-time careers and their property development business, but their road hasn’t always been smooth. Despite their share of obstacles and a few business disagreements, they’ve always relied on each other. They attribute much of their success to their playing days at Catholic.

“I think we learned how to pick ourselves up after failure. Regardless of the game’s outcome, we had to get up and prepare to play again the next week,” Grace said. “This prepared us well for life in business because things don't always go well. Rather than get discouraged and roll over, football teaches you to pick yourself up and keep going.”

Added Joiner: “Matt and I work very differently, similar to our positions on the field. I was a lineman, and Matt was a fullback. But just like on the field, the way we work complements the other perfectly, so I think that’s why we get along so well and why we’ve been successful.”

Beyond their tight bond, the two developed other relationships through their sport that proved impactful.

Their teammate, James Vollono, who was two years ahead of them, took the pair under his wing and showed them how to adjust to college life as student-athletes. And when they graduated, Vollono introduced Grace to the man who would become his new boss. That same individual is now Joiner’s boss as well at First Financial Group.

Most important, though, Grace and Joiner both met their wives at Catholic; the two women were field hockey players.

“We each started dating our wives our senior year, and luckily they’ve stuck with us ever since,” Grace said.

“While we’re all former student-athletes,” Joiner joked, “our wives were actually good.”

Biographies

Matt Grace
Financial adviser and real estate rental manager

Hometown: Crofton, Maryland

Current City: Washington, D.C.

School: Bachelor’s degree in education, 2005, Catholic University

Sport: Football

Fun fact: He once rode a bull named “Bone Crusher.”


Sean Joiner
Financial adviser and real estate rental manager

Hometown: Ashland, Kentucky

Current City: Washington, D.C.

School: Bachelor’s degree in political science, 2006, Catholic University

Sport: Football

Fun fact: He used to have an English mastiff named Zeus, which weighed more than 200 pounds. Now he and his wife have a bulldog/pug mix named Boss, which weighs 19 pounds.

After the Game

We are proud of all our former student-athletes, and in recognition of their accomplishments after their playing days, we launched NCAA After the Game.  Our goal is simple: to celebrate the former student-athlete.

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