“I wanted to drill him,” Gronkowski said Thursday.
As he closed in for the tackle, through his face mask, came an ear-to-ear smile.
“It was almost like he was giggling,” said Mike Mammoliti, Williamsville North’s coach. “His eyes were big as saucers. He caught this kid maybe two or three yards from the sideline, and he blew him up, sent him all the way into our bench. And you just had this sense that he just enjoyed what he did.”
Gronkowski’s enjoyment of football, combined with ridiculous physical skills and a 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame, have him entering his second playoff game at age 22 with historic accomplishments.
Only five other tight ends have ever had 90 catches in a season, Gronkowski’s total this year. None has finished with more than Gronkowski’s 1,327 yards, which set a record in 2011. The old standard for touchdown catches by a tight end in a single year was 13, set by San Diego’s Antonio Gates in 2004 and matched by San Francisco’s Vernon Davis in 2009. Gronkowski equaled that total in the 12th game of the season, and finished with a record of 17.
And he’s done it all in a way that has endeared him to a Patriots fan base that badly wants another Super Bowl championship. “Gronk,” as he is known in these parts, has goofily embraced his new celebrity, surprising even some who know him well.
“There were kind of question marks with Robby, because he’s kind of a shy kid. He sometimes seems like he doesn’t like to talk,” said Dana Dimel, Gronkowski’s position coach at the University of Arizona. “If you’re an NFL team and you’re interviewing him, he could seem like maybe he’s a distant kind of guy. But he’s not. He loves football.”
That he comes by naturally. His father Gordy played on the offensive line at Syracuse, and his older brother Dan — the second of five Gronkowski boys — played tight end at Maryland and is now with the Cleveland Browns. Older brother Chris initially went to Maryland, then transferred to Arizona and is now a fullback with the Indianapolis Colts. Youngest boy Glenn will play next year at Kansas State.
Gordy Gronkowski owned an exercise equipment dealership — G&G Fitness — and the boys weren’t even in high school when they started lifting weights. That had a direct impact on Gronkowski’s college career, which he began by catching 28 passes, including six touchdowns, as a true freshman for the Wildcats.