There are 48 days until the Arizona Wildcats kickoff the season against the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners. 48 is also the number the great Rob Gronkowski, better known as "Gronk", wore during his illustrious career as a Wildcat.
Therefore, it's only right that we take a look back at his time in Tucson.
Coming out of high school, Rob Gronkowski was a top recruit at his position. He was a 4-star prospect, and was ranked as the 4th best tight end in the country.
Despite growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Amherst, New York and having offers from football powerhouses like Ohio State and Penn State, Rob Gronkowski decided to head to the desert for his college career. Unsurprisingly, he was the top recruit in Arizona's 2007 recruiting class.
He proved to be the real deal, and wasted no time making an impact at Arizona. His 6-6 260 pound frame combined with incredible speed and elusiveness made him an incredibly tough cover. He was too quick for linebackers, and his sheer size understandably made it difficult for defensive backs to tackle him. I remember one play against Arizona State where he easily shed two leg tackles and made ASU's defensive backs look like third graders.
In his freshman season, he caught 28 passes for 525 yards. He broke the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. He also had 6 TD's. Some of his better performances included an 115 yard, two touchdown game against Washington State, and also a 5 catch, 73 yard game in the upset of #2 Oregon (the Dennis Dixon injury game) late in November.
Gronkowski's sophomore season in 2008 was even more impressive. Despite missing the first three games of the season with a back injury, Gronk finished with 47 catches for 672 yards and 10 TD's. He set nearly every record for a tight end in Arizona history, and was named as an AP Third-Team All-American, and well as the First Team All-Pac-10.
When you look back at his game log from that season, you really get a feel for how dominant he was.
That Oregon game was the one where he and his brother, Chris Gronkowski, absolutely destroyed the Ducks' defense. They combined for 227 receiving yards and two touchdowns. And his performance against Arizona State helped the Wildcats snap a three-game losing streak to the Sun Devils.
Gronkowski's excellence on the field helped Arizona finish 7-5 in the regular season, which made them bowl game bound for the first time since 1998. They beat BYU in the New Mexico Bowl, finished the season 8-5, and have been back to a bowl game in every year except one since.
Unfortunately, Gronkowski's time at Arizona would end prematurely. A back injury would force him to miss his entire junior season, and as we know, he ended up declaring for the draft instead of returning for his senior year. This injury is one that Arizona fans will always look back at and think "what if he were healthy?"
The 2009 season was a undoubtedly a successful one for the Wildcats. They managed to go 8-4 in the regular season and made it to the Holiday Bowl.
Even though it was a great season, you can't help but think what their record would've been if they had a healthy Rob Gronkowski. Matt Scott and Nick Foles were first-year starters that season, and it's needless to say that having Gronkowski as a safety valve for the young, inexperienced QB's would've been extremely helpful.
What ifs aside, Gronkowski's tenure as a Wildcat created a positive change in the outlook of Arizona football. No longer is Arizona looked at as a bottom of the barrel team in the Pac-10/Pac-12 as they were in the early and mid-2000's. The program has made significant strides since Gronk's departure, and a large reason for that is the success and attention he brought to the program.
Despite his career at Arizona being over, he continues to make Tucson proud each and every football Sunday. He now holds the spot as Arizona's best current NFL player. He's the most dominant tight end in the league, a three-time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl champion. But most importantly, he is and will always be an Arizona Wildcat.