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Buffalo’s Best/ Men’s No. 4: Rob Gronkowski

The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 4 among men:

Name: Rob Gronkowski.

Sport: Football.

Hometown: Amherst.

High school: Williamsville North (through junior year).

Born: May 4, 1989.

Career overview: Although he’s only six seasons into his professional career, the New England Patriots’ Gronkowski is building a resume to become one of the great tight ends in NFL history. He holds the single-season record for most receiving yards (1,327) and receiving touchdowns (17) – both of which he set in 2011, only his second year in the league. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro who two seasons ago became a Super Bowl champion. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Gronkowski is a true match-up nightmare for defenses – too big to cover with a defensive back and too fast to cover with a linebacker. Inside the red zone, there may not be a better weapon in the NFL. Since entering the league in 2010, he has 65 touchdowns. For all those reasons, he’s on a one-name basis with even casual sports fans, who know him simply as “Gronk.”

Memorable moment: Gronkowski has dominated his hometown team. He has 10 touchdown catches against the Bills, his most against any opponent. Two of those came in his first game with New England in Buffalo, a 34-3 win on Dec. 26, 2010.

“It was a lot of fun being in front of my family,” he told The Buffalo News after the game. “It was an awesome time.”

Every time Gronk torches the Bills, it’s a reminder of one of their all-time draft gaffes. Before New England chose Gronkowski with the 42nd pick of the 2010 draft, the Bills used the No. 41 selection to take … defensive tackle Torell Troup. Ouch.

Yo Soy Fiesta: Of course, Gronkowski’s numerous accomplishments on the field are only part of his story. He also has a well-earned reputation for being the life of the party. From the moment he uttered that now-famous phrase in a 2012 interview with ESPN Deportes, Gronkowski’s off-the-field exploits have been chronicled extensively by websites like Deadspin and TMZ. From the so-called “Summer of Gronk,” to shirtless pictures with porn stars, owning his own party bus and, ahem, having erotic novels written about him … it’s all part of being Gronk. It’s not a surprise that his recently released autobiography is titled “It’s Good to be Gronk.”

In his blood: Gronkowski comes from the first family of Buffalo sports. He and his four brothers are the sons of Diane and Gordon Gronkowski, co-founder of G&G Fitness. The Gronkowski boys’ athletic exploits are remarkable. All five of them earned Division I athletic scholarships. Three of them – Rob, Chris and Dan – have played in the NFL. The oldest, Gordon Jr., played minor-league baseball in the Los Angeles Angels’ system. The youngest, Glenn, was a fullback for Kansas State and likely will be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.

On his own: Rob Gronkowski did not graduate from Williamsville North, where he was All-Western New York as a junior, choosing to spend his senior year at Woodland Hills High School outside Pittsburgh. Gronkowski was initially deemed ineligible by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which ruled that Gronkowski’s transfer was for athletic reasons. That ruling was overturned just days later by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Decision to make: In his first two seasons at the University of Arizona, Gronkowski had 75 catches for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns. Prior to his junior season of 2009, however, he underwent back surgery for a badly ruptured disk that was damaging nerves in his spinal cord. Gronkowski revealed in his autobiography that he could have retired from football and collected a tax-free $4 million insurance policy. Instead, he chose to continue playing football. To do so, he went through grueling rehabilitation, with no guarantee that he would ever be the same.

Injury woes continue: Gronkowski broke his arm in November 2012 blocking on an extra point. He returned for the playoffs that year, but suffered the same injury. A total of four surgeries were needed before the arm completely healed. The next year, Gronkowski tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee, requiring more surgery. Dating to college, he’s had at least eight known operations.

There’s more to Gronk than just being a goofball.

“Some people just look at it like you go out there on game day and play, but that’s really not the case,” he told The News at the Super Bowl in February 2015. “I feel like they underestimate the hard work and dedication behind the scenes.

“I believe that’s where my hard work and dedication definitely comes from, growing up in Buffalo.”

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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