Fullbacks are a bit of a dying breed across the country, and especially in the Big 12 in recent years. I'm actually kind of surprised two of them were still included on the All-Conference teams last year.
Of course, Bill Snyder has never been bothered by what everyone else was doing. The fullback remains alive and well in Manhattan, primarily used for blocking but ready to run or catch some passes if he has the impressive pro-quality skills of, say, a Rock Cartwright or Braden Wilson.
That's why Wilson was an integral and probably under-appreciated part of the offense last season, when the 'Cats led the Big 12 and ranked sixth in the country with 42 rushing touchdowns. It's why Glenn Gronkowski rising to the top of the depth chart and becoming a major contributor as a
true redshirt freshman could be huge for an offense that returns an incredible O-line and a preseason First Team All-Big 12 running back.
Yes, that's a lot to ask for a guy who is only 20 years old and has never been on the field in an actual college game before. So far, though, he appears to be turning some heads and showing some of the skills that made him an excellent wide receiver before he graduated high school back in 2010.
Combine that with a rather impressive spring performance and some substantial athletic ability, and I think "Goose" leaves little question he could be a dynamic receiver and occasional runner out of the backfield. His strength is already well above typical freshman level, and his hands appear to be excellent as well.
However, K-State is already fairly set with above-average tight ends and wide receivers. Gronkowski isn't going to be that dynamic playmaker this offense could still be lacking in the passing game, so he'll need to prove his true value blocking while his teammates carry the ball and get the glory.
Isn't that what it always comes down to for Bill Snyder fullbacks, anyway? We've seen time and time again how important a relentless lead blocker can be, and the biggest challenge might be getting Gronkowski to buy into that approach.
The allure of the type of success found by his brother Rob will be one of the many reasons for Gronkowski to believe he can be a dominant force offensively, especially if K-State opens up the passing game more this season. Maybe in his future, he will be that guy.
But I sure hope a guy like Zach Nemechek, who has been in the system and worked his way up the depth chart for three years, can make clear the value of doing the dirty work. If a guy with the receiving pedigree of Gronkowski could turn blocking into his biggest strength and top priority, there's no telling how far he could go.