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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Big Country’ or ‘Drago’?

    Rob Gronkowski
    Rob Gronkowski

    As the Arizona football team paces itself into conference play, the offense continues to see strong development in its underclassmen.

    But perhaps the one player who has made the most significant impact this season is true freshman Rob Gronkowski.

    Gronkowski, the third-youngest player on the roster and the youngest starter on the offense and defense by nearly six months, has already made a name for himself as one of Arizona’s top receivers.

    “”He’s playing really well for a freshman,”” said offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”He’s smart, he’s physically ready. As he improves you’ll see his role.””

    He has been an early target for quarterback Willie Tuitama, who has already connected with Gronkowski for three passes, including his first touchdown reception Saturday against NAU, a 26-yard pass in the third quarter.

    “”That was a big catch for a first home game,””

    Gronkowski said. “”It was a crazy feeling. I was all jacked up.

    “”It was sweet. I had adrenaline going. It was just an amazing feeling.””

    The 6-foot-6 Gronkowski came into the Arizona football program in the middle of June weighing 272 pounds. After going through strength and conditioning coordinator Corey Edmond’s workout program, he became stronger and slimmed down to around 260.

    He’s just so wild, like a wild hog running around out here in practice, running routes and stuff. Reminds me of a country horse.

    Mike Thomas, UA wide receiver

    “”It was a big transition,”” he said. “”Everyone on the team was just way faster and stronger and more powerful and everything. It took me a couple weeks in camp just to get used to everything. Everyone was just way better.””

    The 18-year-old from Williamsville, N.Y., was a double threat in high school, starring as a center on his basketball team and averaging 21 points and 18 rebounds per game his first three years.

    Coaches like his basketball-like moves on the field and his agility even more.

    “”He’s a big guy, but he runs pretty good for a guy his size,”” Dykes said. “”Physically we knew he was pretty far along and that he was real smart. It was just a matter of him being able to replicate the same thing day after day after day, and he’s done a good job of doing that.””

    Gronkowski was somewhat of a secret for the offense in summer camp. Heading into the season opener at Brigham Young, he was listed third on the depth chart, but ended up starting his first collegiate game and catching a 17-yard pass.

    “”Robbie gets better every time he steps on the field,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”He’s just scratching the surface of where he can go as a player.

    “”He’s only going to get better as he continues to develop. He’s an excellent blocker, and he stretches the field vertically very well.””

    Gronkowski said a big reason he chose Arizona was because of his brother, Chris, who is a reserve utility infielder for the Wildcat baseball team.

    Gronkowski has already adopted nicknames from his teammates. He has been called “”Drago”” for the last four years because of his striking resemblance to the massive Russian boxer from “”Rocky IV.””

    “”I just never even noticed,”” Gronkowski said. “”Everyone always told me I looked like Drago, and I’ve heard it ever since.””

    Mike Thomas also calls him “”Big Country,”” for no apparent reason other than the fact that with his size, he brings a different element to the offensive line.

    “”He’s a dual threat. You can sneak him in there to block, throw it to him and he’ll catch it,”” Thomas said. “”He brings a lot. He gives us a threat down the middle at all times. Teams are going to have to start taking him into account because he’s a weapon we have. He’s a big deal for us.

    “”He’s a big dude,”” Thomas added. “”He’s just so wild, like a wild hog running around out here in practice, running routes and stuff. Reminds me of a country horse.””

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