Meeting with the press shortly after K-State’s annual spring game in April, Glenn Gronkowski was tipped off to something going on behind him.
He didn’t turn around, though. He didn’t have to. He already knew it was his big brother, Rob, standing in the doorway entertaining everyone else at his expense.
Being the youngest of five brothers is tough for very obvious reasons. When all four siblings have made a living playing professional sports and one of them is arguably the most prolific NFL tight end in recent memory, it’s even more so.
“There’s a lot of pressure to play as a freshman in the Big 12,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs/tight ends coach Dana Dimel said. “There’s a lot of pressure to play as a freshman in the Big 12 with ‘Gronkowski’ on the back of your jersey — a lot of expectations.”
Dimel, recalling Glenn’s freshman year at K-State, would know all about the expectations of playing with the famous last name. Before Glenn came to K-State, he coached Rob at the University of Arizona. Under Dimel’s direction in 2008, Rob broke more records than tackles, or so it seemed. He finished the year a third-team all-American and all-Pac-10 first-team tight end, well on his way to becoming a second-round draft pick in 2010 to the New England Patriots.
In Rob’s first three years in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he would become a two-time Pro Bowler and an AFC Champion. Not bad for the 42nd pick.
“It’s hard to get away from Rob and (company), you’re never going to get away from that,” Dimel said. “But, here (at K-State), he is Glenn Gronkowski and he’s part of what we do, so he does have his own identity here.”
However, for the youngest Gronkowski, finding that identity has been a journey.
Glenn redshirted in 2012 after greyshirting his first year in Manhattan. He viewed it as an opportunity to shadow his predecessor, former K-State and Kansas City Chiefs fullback Braden Wilson.
It was a decision made in good faith.
A year later, Glenn took over for Wilson and played in all 13 games for K-State with five starts. His numbers (five receptions for 194 yards and three touchdowns) and ability to open gaps for former K-State running back John Hubert, earned him an all-Big 12 honorable mention award. Meanwhile, his work in the classroom netted him a first-team academic all-Big 12 accolade.
“All of a sudden,” Dimel said, “the switch turned.”
No longer was he just a Gronkowski, he was a hard-nosed workhorse for a K-State football program that’s cashed in on players coming to that very realization.
“Obviously just knowing the playbook a lot better now, understanding it completely,” Glenn pointed to as a major turning point in his success this season. “Being able to go out there and focus on more important stuff, using your fundamentals and doing things like that. I think it helps a lot to be able to do those things.”
Dimel adds that Glenn has learned to do more with fewer reps in practice, something that wasn’t so evident that year when the sophomore was still learning the ins and outs of the system.
“He’s grown immeasurably,” Dimel said. “Just his overall big-picture ability to see things from a large spectrum has just been immense. He’s gotten more physical, he’s learned to play inside the tackle box, he’s learned how to finish better, play with better pad level, how to see things and know where he can get himself open in the passing game and how to run the football better. Every aspect of his game has gotten so much better. But if you have to put it on one thing, his football IQ has just improved drastically, and to us that’s what Kansas State football is all about, football IQ.”
Glenn isn’t about to put up the numbers his brother did six years ago — he is just a fullback — but his soft hands and surprising speed has made him another weapon in senior quarterback Jake Water’s arsenal.
“This year he’s played great so far and he’s more comfortable with the playbook,” Waters said. “That’s what another year of experience does for you in the program. I definitely see him coming along really nice.”
His abilities were on display last Saturday in K-State’s 31-30 upset victory over Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. Down a touchdown early in the contest, Waters hooked up with his sophomore fullback over the middle for a 62-yard touchdown, capping off a three-play drive that took just 57 seconds off the clock.
The touchdown was so good that it sparked the comment of his brother Rob on Twitter.
“What a TD by (Glenn Gronkowski) !!!” Rob typed. “That was sick!!”
Glenn may never haul in enough 62-yard passes to live up to each and every expectation placed upon him, because of his last name, and he may never get the notoriety his brothers do – but that’s okay.
Glenn Gronkowski is at K-State because he’s a strong, callous football player and that’s an identity that breeds success here in Manhattan, Kansas.