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SUPPORT GROUP Multisport-starring Gronkowski brothers reap the spoils of working hard and pulling for one another

,4,mdl IIt has become part of their pregame preparation, an unspoken ritual of sorts for three of the brothers. About an hour before kickoff, Dan at Maryland and Chris and Rob at Arizona stop whatever they're doing and check their cell phones for Gordie's text message from home.

I'll be watching you. Think of all of your hard work and dedication. Believe in yourself. Show everyone what you're all about. Give it everything you have.

Gordie is the oldest of the Gronkowski brothers, the first to earn a Division I scholarship. He played professional baseball. Dan, Chris and Rob are expected to get opportunities to play in the NFL. Glenn is the last to attend Williamsville North and could be the best.

Their father, Gordie Sr., who co-founded the G&G Fitness empire, was a standout offensive lineman who played college ball at Syracuse. He has a story of his own about the value of persistence and perseverance. Their mother, Diane, played basketball in high school. Her boys say she deserves a free pass to heaven for raising them. Both parents emphasized academics over athletics.

"One thing that I always emphasized with all of them, and everyone has heard me say it, was that at any time someone can take away your athleticism," Diane said. "Nobody can take away your college diploma. They know that not graduating from college is not an option."

The Gronkowskis could be the greatest collection of student-athletes from one family in Western New York history. The family will wind up saving some $550,000 in tuition and board, more if Glenn lands a scholarship.

Yeah, that should offset food bills that once ranged between $500 and $600 per week.

"They're all bright kids," Williamsville North Athletic Director Steve Ferenczy said. "How do you argue with four kids getting Division I scholarships at major schools and a fifth one possibly? I have five kids and wonder how I'm going to pay for college. They have no worries there."

Naturally, there's a perception that the boys' success comes from wealthy, hard-driving parents who pushed them into sports and developed them behind their expansive Amherst home that's complete with an enormous yard, batting cage, tennis courts, an in-ground pool and top fitness equipment.

And it would be false.

Their parents never pushed them. Ultimately, they were blessed with height, fitness equipment and the desire to compete with one another.

The true distance between hard work and rewards is 12 feet. It separates the fitness equipment in their unfinished basement from five trophy cases that are stocked with everything from Rob's high game in youth bowling to Gordie's hole-in-one.

Their unity best defines their success. Over time, success bred success for five multisport athletes.

"We're close to each other, and it's awesome," Gordie Jr. said. "It's so unique when compared to a lot of families. How many people do you have who are 6-2 or taller, weigh 245 pounds and pretty much play any sport? We pushed each other, but we supported each other."

I'll be watching you.

Gordie. He's the oldest and always made sense. Funny, but he never understood how closely his brothers were watching him. He never played football like his father before him and his brothers after him. He was a 6-foot-2, 205-pound first baseman who barely received a sniff from Division I colleges during high school.

He flooded schools across the country with letters and video, a trick he learned from his father. Gordie Sr. once bought a two-week bus pass that took him across the country, where he showed college coaches game films that he, ahem, borrowed from West Seneca West.

It was during a similar trip with Gordie Jr. that they landed at Jacksonville University, where the kid talked his way into a baseball tryout. Two years later, he was on scholarship and evolved into one of its best players. In between, he grew 4 inches and turned his skinny frame into 250 pounds of muscle. He also worked with speed guru Demeris Johnson, who runs Thurman Thomas Training in Elma.

"I remember thinking, 'This is a gorgeous stadium. How many people get this opportunity to come as a walk-on?' " Gordie said. "How many people wish they were playing here, playing Florida State, playing Miami, playing year-round? Not many. I didn't take it for granted by any means. I was in the weight room morning and night."

Gordie Jr., a freshman All-American, batted .377 his senior year. He was selected by Anaheim, won a championship in the Pioneer League for rookies and spent last season in Single A Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before back injuries derailed his season and led to his release.

Still, Gordie, 25, was evidence that goals were worth setting, dreams worth pursuing. He led by example.

And that's why his text messages are worth reading.

"We call him the mayor of wherever he goes because he's really enthusiastic and has a charisma about him," Dan said. "He's our No. 1 fan. He tries to get us going before every game. And it's usually something intense."

Think of all of your hard work and dedication.

Dan. He's the second oldest, the hardest worker. He was a four-sport athlete and a good student in high school, but he was neither the best nor the brightest in his own family. He exceled because he was tireless in his approach.

The 6-6, 260-pounder showed up at Maryland thinking he was a quarterback, but he'll leave as one of the better blocking tight ends in the country. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago, the same day Rob caught two. He's expected to be a middle-round selection during the NFL draft in April.

"We grew up loving sports," Dan said. "Our parents didn't have to push us. We always wanted to play ourselves. And when we weren't playing sports, we were in our backyard with each other. We just never stopped. The five of us grew up being team players because we had the five of us. We're used to being part of a team."

Dan, 23, graduated from Maryland in 3 1/2 years. When the season ends, he'll be one semester from earning his master's degree in business administration. He's been nominated for a Rhodes scholarship. He's had the highest grade-point average among Maryland football players for three years running.

If Gordie showed them scholarships were possible, Dan proved they were earned.

"Once I saw Dan go off to college, I was amazed," Chris said. "He was one of the first people that I knew who went D-I on a football scholarship. It was an eye-opener. If he could get there, I could find a way."

Believe in yourself.

Chris. He's third, the brain of the family, the one who would run a Fortune 500 company. He was accepted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation's top business programs. Imagine, two kids on athletic scholarships and another getting an Ivy League education.

Chris, 21, was prepared to attend Penn, too, until Maryland offered him a football scholarship the summer before his freshman year. Ultimately, he made a business decision without giving up his passion for sports.

Tuition at Wharton: $45,000 a year. Tuition at Maryland: $0.

"I guess my dad wanted to see one of us go to the Ivy League," Chris said. "I didn't like the overall atmosphere. When you want to compete [in sports], you want to go to the highest level possible. It was a lot of money for one year of school."

At 6-2, 245 pounds, Chris figures to be the runt. He spent two years at Maryland before leaving for Arizona. He has played with Dan and Rob.

"Dan is the best blocker I've ever seen," Chris said. "Pass-wise, Rob makes plays that Dan would never make. He's more explosive."

Chris always had faith in his ability, which is why he arrived at Arizona with the intention of playing outfield in baseball and joining Rob in football.

He made both teams but decided to concentrate on football when two sports became too demanding. He started at H-back and scored his first touchdown in the season opener. Whether he gets drafted in 2010 is uncertain, but he's likely to get an opportunity somewhere.

"We used to play mini-sticks all the time, and there were the biggest brawls ever," Rob said. "One time, Chris sent Glenn to the hospital [for stitches to his chin] with a check. We've got it on film. It was pretty sweet. Every time we watch it, it's the funniest thing."

Show everyone what you're all about.

Rob. He was always good for a laugh but not someone people enjoy playing against. He's the best athlete in the family, one whom Wildcats coach Mike Stoops called "a freak."

He was among the most coveted tight ends in the country after leaving Williamsville North following his junior year and playing his final season with Woodland Hills High in Pennsylvania. People questioned the decision, but he showed them.

The Sporting News named Rob to its freshman All-American team after he had 28 catches, second most for a tight end in school history. His 525 yards and six TDs were the most ever for an Arizona tight end.

He missed the first three games this year while battling mononucleosis and scored two TDs in his season debut, a 31-10 win over UCLA. Just a sophomore, he already is being touted as a high NFL draft pick.

"Definitely, that's my aspiration," said Rob, who shares a house with Chris. "Dan could have left last year and gone to the NFL. He decided to stay this year, too. He'll be a big inspiration for me. I'll be looking up to him to do the same thing. It's going to be great."

Rob, 19, was the biggest character growing up and the biggest competitor. He's the same whether he's working out, playing basketball in the pool, tennis or Ping-Pong. He despises losing, a trait he passed down to Glenn.

"We would always wrestle, probably from the time I was born," Glenn said. "I had this one move on him where I would put my fingers on the back and it would hurt and tickle at the same time. It was the only thing I could beat him up on."

Give it everything you have.

Glenn. They call him "Goose" even though he's really a gosling. He's the baby of the family but a good athlete in his own right. He was promoted to Williamsville North's varsity baseball team as a freshman third baseman. He's a sophomore tight end and a high-honors student.

His brothers say he has all the makings to be the best after growing up playing against them and their friends. He's already a gifted athlete, but he also understands the work required to excel. His brothers say colleges would be wise to start paying attention now.

"To look at him, it's hard not to say he's going to be [the best]," Gordie Jr. said. "Chris, Rob and Danny have so much talent. You're going to see two and maybe all three of them playing on Sundays. Glenn is four years younger [than Rob], and he's just starting to develop, but it's freaky watching him."

Glenn, 15, is only 6-2, 180 pounds, but check back in a few years. He's been lifting weights and has his brothers' work ethic. Heck, it was the only way he could survive.

"Whether it's football or baseball, it depends on how big I get," he said. "I have three more years. I'm trying to be down in the basement every day. I know how good they are, so I want to be there with them. I'll do whatever I can."

Apparently, he gets the message, too.


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