On the final day of the Black and Big Blue Youth Football Camp - after certificates had been awarded and drills completed - the young football players had one last lesson in store. This closing message came courtesy of New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowksi, much to the excitement of the young football hopefuls gathered at .
Gronkowski was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Arizona. He finished the 2010 season with 10 receiving touchdowns – a New England Patriots record.
On this evening, however, Gronkowski wasn’t in Winchester simply to talk about his NFL exploits. Instead, he spoke to the young football players and cheerleaders about his life leading up to the NFL and the lessons that he learned over the years from football.
He began by first emphasizing the importance of teamwork. He urged the young players to develop friendships and bonds with their teammates.
“You can’t win a game by yourself,” he told them. “It’s all about the team. There are no individuals at all in football.”
Another point that he wanted to drive home to the players was the value of hard work.
“You can’t get to where you want to be without working hard,” he assured them. That didn’t mean, however, that they couldn’t have fun. Gronkowski was quick to declare that enjoying the sport was crucial as well.
“You want to be out there having fun, hustling and listening to your coaches,” he said.
Gronkowski went on to stress the importance of a healthy diet, listening to your parents and performing well in school. The former scholar athlete of the month at Arizona was adamant of the role that education plays in athletic success.
With two brothers also playing in the NFL (Dan Gronkowski is a tight end for the Denver Broncos and Chris Gronkowski is a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys) Gronkowski also stressed the importance that family had played in his development. He credited his brothers and his parents for helping him to get to the NFL and urged the young players to lean on the families and teammates.
After delivering his message, Gronkowski opened the floor to questions from the young players before him.
The young athletes did try to put him on the hot seat with some probing questions. When asked if he thought there would be an NFL season in 2011, he seemed optimistic.
“I do think there will be a season," Gronkowski said. “I’m hoping next month it will be solved and then we’ll get back to playing ball.”
When asked what team he just didn’t like, the tight end was equally candid uttering “Jets” without a moment’s hesitation and drawing cheers from the audience.
Most of the questions pertained to Gronkowski’s ascent to the NFL and his childhood, and Gronkowski continued to emphasize hard work, family and having fun. After all of the questions had been answered, Gronkowski stuck around and gave each and every camper an autograph and posed for photos.
For Paul Manganaro, Camp Director and Director of Winchester Sachem Youth Football, Gronkowski’s keynote appearance was the perfect culmination of the four-day camp. While the camp, in it’s eighth season, focuses on the fundamentals of the sports, Gronkowski’s speech focused more on the bigger picture.
“We just want the kids to get a good message,” said Manganaro. “Family, education, hard work, dealing with struggles. It’s just a good message to leave the kids with.”