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Gronkowski ready for his first start

By Joel Jellison

Just hearing his last name brings hope that he could be half as good as the others that share it.

But when Glenn Gronkowski makes his first start at fullback for Kansas State tonight at 7:30 against North Dakota State, he said he will be more worried about living up to a different name.

Yes, his brothers Rob, Chris and Dan have all made their living in the NFL, and there’s almost an expectation for him to be the next Gronkowski to carry that torch.

Gronkowski, though, says he hopes he can be even half as good as former Wildcat fullback Braden Wilson.

Wilson didn’t put up any glossy numbers during his career at K-State, and his six rushes for 13 yards and five catches for 34 yards last season don’t exactly catch the eye. But it’s what he did away from the ball that gave him reputation enough to get drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in last April’s NFL Draft.

Wilson was a big, tough player who built his reputation on being a solid blocker. He was so physical, the Wildcats even lined him up at defensive end during a spring game, just to see what would happen.

Gronkowski said Wilson was a player that taugh him a lot.

“When he went out there, he would just flatten people,” he said. “Even in practice when he was blocking — I mean he would flatten me out. He had no worries, he’s a tough kid, and that’s what you need to be at the fullback position. And I think that’s what I learned most from him.”

The bulk of what Gronkowski learned came in the last year alone. During his first year in Manhattan, when he was greyshirted, Gronkowski admits he really didn’t pay attention to much of what was going on. But last season, redshirting, he soaked up everything he could.

“Now I’m in this place a lot,” he said. “Watching film, meeting with the coaches whenever I could, learning the playbook and getting everything down.”

Gronkowski said everything started to come together for him during spring practices. And in the spring game, it clicked. Playing in front of his family, he said he was excited and focused. And around that time, he said the playbook really started to make sense.

When the first depth chart of the season was released on Tuesday, Gronkowski was listed as starter above roommate Zach Nemechek.

Gronkowski said learning he would be the starter was a big personal moment for him.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I’ve been here for a long time. Being under Braden Wilson was huge — just how much he taught me everything — I think that helped a lot. When I learned I was a starter, it was exciting. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time and working hard for it. It meant a lot.”

Gronkowski said both he and Nemechek are diverse players who have different skill sets to offer. In early August, co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel hinted that both players could see the field at the same time.

Gronkowski said he’s excited at the possibilities.

“Me and Zach, we’re roommates, we’re best of friends, so it was a friendly competition, we get pretty hyped when we both get out there and line up next to each other.”

Gronkowski said the fullback position in K-State’s offense is diverse, needing a player with a well-rounded ability to run, catch and block. He said they also need to be able to read the defense before a play.

Despite the numerous starters lost on the defensive side, and the three lost on the offensive side of the ball, Gronkowski said he thinks the players are as close as ever.

“I think we’re coming together more now because we lost so many people, and so many more people are stepping up now,” he said. “I think everybody combined, we’ve been all about unity. I think that’s the main thing right now.”

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