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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Gronkowski brothers excelling in desert

    Chris Gronkowski celebrates with a teammate and his brother, Rob, hauls in a pass in last years game against Washington State. While both brothers have their own identity within the Arizona football team, the two lean on each other during the football season.
    Chris Gronkowski celebrates with a teammate and his brother, Rob, hauls in a pass in last year’s game against Washington State. While both brothers have their own identity within the Arizona football team, the two lean on each other during the football season.

    It’s a privilege for any student to play collegiate athletics at any school in the country. Even if you’re lucky enough to make it that far, odds are you’re no star player. But there are rarely two siblings who play not only at the same school, but on the same team at the Division I level.

    “”It’s neat to experience some of the things you get to experience (in college sports) with a brother. I’ve done it as a player and a coach,”” UA head coach Mike Stoops said of his time as a player at Iowa, and as coach at Kansas State and Oklahoma with his brother Bob Stoops. “”That’s very special to be able to compete with a sibling at this level and to accomplish some things. It’s neat to have somebody that close to you to share them with so it is a very unique experience.””

    The Arizona football team is blessed with two talented, athletic and likeable brothers in the Gronkowski boys. Sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski is one of the stars on the Wildcats’ offense, as he snagged six touchdowns a season ago as a true freshman and earned Freshman All-America status.

    The older brother, Chris, lines up just behind Rob as an H-back, a tight end-running back hybrid position.

    “”He gives us a lot of versatility in the backfield,”” Stoops said of Chris. “”His blocking has improved, and his receiving skills. He’s become a very complete player.””

    But Chris wasn’t an instant success for Arizona like his younger brother. He had to work his way into playing time, and his relentless effort in the weight room has seemingly paid off this year. Last season Chris boasted the eighth-highest strength index on the team and was top among all running backs.

    “”I’ve been very impressed with Chris and what he brings to the game,”” Stoops said. “”He’s very fast. He’s a very intelligent player, but he can do a lot of different things and that’s what you like about him. You can play him at fullback, tight end and move him around the field in a bunch of different formations.””

    With that much power in a 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame, it was only a matter of time before he saw the field. He caught his first career pass – a 12-yard touchdown reception – in the second quarter of Arizona’s 70-0 season-opening win over Idaho a game his brother couldn’t play in. Rob sat out the first three games this season, recovering from mononucleosis.

    “”He watched out for me and everything like that; it was good knowing that he was participating on the team and keeping our last name in good shape,”” Rob said.

    But there’s no need to worry that Arizona fans will forget the Gronkowski name as Rob has permanently etched his name in to the program’s history books. His 28 catches last season rank second in school history for receptions by a tight end in one season behind Mark Keel’s 32 grabs in 1980.

    Rob broke Keel’s single-season yardage mark for a tight end of 515 yards as he gained 525 yards last year and 115 yards – a single-game record for tight ends – came from just four catches against Washington State.

    Listed at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Rob was a highly sought after recruit coming out of his senior season at Woodland Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Penn., but having a familiar face in the desert aided his transition to the college game.

    “”It’s real sweet. It’s great having that,”” Rob said. “”There’s someone to go to and you know what you’ve got out on the field, growing up and everything so you trust him as much or more than anyone out there.””

    And having a sibling at every practice puts a little extra incentive in each drill, Chris said.

    “”It kind of works you harder,”” he said. “”You want to impress your brother and make sure you’re doing your work, too. Make sure he’s working hard, and if anyone falls behind your brother will just pick you up.””

    Stoops knows what a luxury having a brother going through the daily grind with you can be – not just from his past experiences at in the Big 10 and Big 12. His younger brother, Mark, has been the defensive coordinator for the Wildcats ever since Mike arrived. He said the experience of playing side-by-side with a family member will only help the Gronkowskis grow and maybe even exceed their potential, not only in football, but life as well.

    “”Chris and Robbie are both very easy going guys. They work extremely hard on the field and they’re very talented in the classroom,”” Mike Stoops said. “”They both seem like they like to have a good time and they’re very sociable people, so I think it’s been good for both of them.””

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