Last Thursday, we shared quotes from former University of Arizona head coach Mike Stoops regarding new Patriots fullback Spencer Larsen (link here). Larsen isn’t the only former Wildcat on the Patriots roster, as Stoops also coached tight end Rob Gronkowski during his college days.
Gronkowski was healthy for just two seasons at Arizona, as a major back injury shelved him for his third and final year on campus. That played a part in his slipping to the 42nd overall pick in the 2010 draft, when the Patriots selected the tight end his former coach describes as “just a monster.”
Gronkowski set a dozen single-season or career records for tight ends at Arizona in just 23 games played, and has continued his record-setting ways as a pro. In 2011, he posted 17 touchdown receptions and 1,327 receiving yards, both NFL records for a tight end in a single-season.
Stoops was asked if he saw signs of Gronkowski’s evolution into becoming an NFL star.
“You saw glimpses of it in games,” Stoops recalled, citing a game in Gronkowski's sophomore season when he had 12 catches for 143 yards against Oregon. “He was virtually un-coverable. So you saw signs. It was disappointing because he was starting to come into his own as a player the year he hurt his back, and that was disappointing because we didn’t see the best of him, even at Arizona.”
As for what makes Gronkowski such an effective player, Stoops sees many reasons.
“There’s nobody that competed on the football field like he did and ... his football talent is immense. That’s really what I saw coaching him. Just his ability to block at the point of attack and certainly separate from linebackers and safeties," he said.
Prior to the 2010 draft, Stoops spoke with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and expressed with conviction how he felt about Gronkowski’s NFL future.
“I said if I was starting a team, this would be the guy I would take first,” Stoops stated. “I know there was skepticism built around his injury, but if he was going to stay healthy, there was no question in my mind he would be an All-Pro caliber player because of his dimensions and his attitude, his physical capabilities, and his mental capabilities. What he can do on the football field is pretty extreme for a guy that size.”