Gronkowski Makes an Impression in the NFL after UA Success
By Brian Anthony Price
Rob Gronkowski was a little known tight end out of the University of Arizona when the New England Patriots drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Don't expect that anonymity to last long. The Upstate New York native has proven to be a versatile player and a big target for All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady.
"He's done a great job," Brady said. "I think he just turned 21, but since the day that he got here, he's made an impact on the team with both his blocking and what he's been able to do for us in the passing game. He's a big kid, really strong, he's got real good speed. It's just a matter of getting him more involved. He's proven every week that he's capable of doing some real good things in our offense so we're trying to find ways to incorporate him more."
Growing up in Buffalo, he was one of five brothers in a household where sports were a family enterprise, especially after father Gordon Sr. was a three-year starter at offensive guard for Syracuse University. The house was equipped with a fully functional gym and plenty of competition.
"There was always a game going on in the backyard: football, hockey, baseball. You name it." Gronkowski said.
Their gene pool is impressive. Gordon Sr. (6'2'') and his wife Diane (5'8") have raised five boys, four of whom are playing professional sports. In addition to Rob, Gordie Jr., the eldest son, was taken in the 2006 MLB draft by the Angels, Dan is a tight end for the Denver Broncos and Chris is a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys. The youngest, Glenn, who is 6'3 and still growing, is rated as one of the top prep wide receivers in the country, giving the Gronkowski boys a chance to go 5-for-5 in earning college scholarships.
It's not everyday a kid from Buffalo ends up in Tucson, but Gronkowski loved the family atmosphere and coaching staff at the University of Arizona. He vowed to help the Wildcats re-establish themselves as a prominent Pac-10 program again. With head coach Mike Stoops' energy and talented young players like Gronkowski, winning was right around the corner.
As a sophomore in 2008, Arizona entered its regular-season finale against the cross-state rival Arizona State with a 6-5 record and knew only a victory would secure a bowl game appearance. On top of that, ASU had won five of the last six meetings against the Wildcats. With his entire family in attendance, Gronkowski hauled in six receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown, helping lead the Wildcats to 31-10 road victory and secure the school's first bowl bid in 10 years.
To make things even better. he was playing alongside his brother Chris, one of Arizona's running backs.
"The fact that I was on the same team with my brother made the victory over ASU even more special," Gronkowski said. "We were a tough combination to stop."?
In the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona beat the favored BYU Cougars, 31-21. One of Arizona's trademark plays was lining Rob and Chris next to each other and splitting the safety downfield. Late in the game, the Wildcats dialed it up, allowing Rob to draw the secondary to leave Chris wide open for a 24-yard touchdown that put the game away for good. The program has been on the rise ever since.
"To be a part of the team that went to the first bowl game in 10 years is something I'll always remember," Gronkowski said.
Despite missing the first three games of the 2008 season, Gronkowski posted 47 catches for 672 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He was named first team All-Pac-10 and was an Associated Press third team All-American selection. However, he also learned he'd have to sit out his junior year following major back surgery. After rehabbing, he took his training to another level and decided to enter the NFL Draft.
In a pre-draft interview, Gronkowski said his dream passer was Tom Brady and the Patriots were listening. When New England called his name with the 42nd pick, Rob found himself in a family huddle chanting GRONK! GRONK! GRONK! By the way, he ran out onto the draft stage at Radio City Music Hall with a Pats helmet and nearly knocking over NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was clear Gronkowski was ready to go right then and there.
Even as his pro career progresses, Gronkowski will always remain true to his Pac-10 roots and he's proud to watch the Arizona program he helped build continue to climb in the national rankings.
"U of A is a program that any football player should consider," he said. "Not a lot of people were talking about them before the season began, but look at them now, coming off a huge win over Iowa to be 3-0. Every Arizona practice was extremely hard and certainly instrumental in getting me prepared for a career in the NFL."