Gunnar Gronski is only a junior at Superior High School, but head football coach Bob DeMeyer already knows what lies ahead for the Spartan standout.
“He will play college football,” DeMeyer said. “It’s just a matter of where.”
Gronski, the 2016 Superior Telegram Football Player of the Year, starred on both sides of the ball for the Spartans this season.
At running back, he led Superior with 844 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and was named to the Big Rivers Conference All-Conference first team as a running back.
At linebacker, Gronski recorded 58 total tackles — the third highest total on the team.
“He had some big shoes to fill both at tailback and linebacker and he did a fantastic job at that,” DeMeyer said. “As a linebacker, he’s a very physical presence and sure tackler. As the season progressed so did his play.”
Gronski said he has no preference between running back and linebacker, but he’s drawn more attention for his accomplishments on offense.
That stands to reason.
Among Gronski’s influences is his father, John, who played running back at Bemidji State University.
“That definitely interested me in playing that side of the ball,” Gronski said. “As far as defense goes, playing linebacker, it’s just something I fell into playing football over the years. Coaches in the past that I’ve had just felt that’s where I should be, and that’s where I am right now.”
Gronski said he can turn to his father for advice on the offensive side of the ball, but when it comes to his duties as a linebacker, he’s on his own.
“He just lets me know that he has no knowledge of that,” said Gronski, laughing.
John Gronski ranks third on BSU’s all-time rushing list with 2,972 career yards (1986-89).
He led the Beavers in yards rushing during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and his average of 7.25 yards per carry during his 1987 sophomore season remains the top mark in BSU history. Gronski also holds the Beavers’ record for most yards rushing in a single game (319 vs. Southwest State on Oct. 31, 1987.)
That pedigree sets the bar high for Gunnar Gronski, but the junior is living up to expectations.
In Superior’s 35-30 win over Holmen in the second game of the season, Gronski ran for 193 yards and three touchdowns, averaging more than 11 yards per carry.
“Sometimes even when they know it’s coming they still can’t stop him,” DeMeyer said. “He’s that determined.”
DeMeyer describes Gronski as a gritty player who can be counted on to get yards in pressure situations.
The Spartan coach sees him as a “throwback-type tough guy,” one who can play several positions and who won’t come off the field if he can help his team.
“He’s just that kind of competitor. He’s got that kind of work ethic and character,” DeMeyer said. “He’s the kind of kid you can’t afford to take off the field, and he never showed one sign of ever being tired or worn down in any game throughout the season.
“And that’s because of how he prepares himself. He does everything he’s supposed to and then some.”
One of the only things Gronski doesn’t do is talk about his accomplishments, DeMeyer said.
“He makes great decisions, he’s a great student, and he’s a team player who puts others first,” DeMeyer said. “He’s the kind of kid you want other people to follow.”
Gronski has one year remaining in his high school career, but already the junior has managed something few other running backs have ever accomplished.
“I both managed to run the ball and get a holding penalty at the same time,” Gronski said.
That combination should be impossible, but Gronski pulled off the feat anyway in Superior’s 42-35 loss to Rice Lake on Oct. 7.
“Allegedly,” DeMeyer said. “It’s not really possible.”
The holding penalty negated what would have been more than a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter — with the game tied and Superior gaining momentum after a successful onside kick — but Gronski is able to smile at the odd turn of events now.
“That was a long, drawn-out kind of argument on the field,” he said.
Officials initially whistled Gronski for holding but then conferred and assigned the penalty to a different player … who had not been on the field. After more discussion, the officials simply said a holding penalty had occurred and left it at that.
“I think I ended up with the penalty officially,” Gronski said.
The quirky statistic is good for a laugh, but Gronski hopes the statistics he puts up in his senior year will be of a more serious sort.
The junior was 156 yards from cracking the 1,000-yard rushing barrier this year, and eclipsing that mark is on his list of goals for 2017. Gronski said he’d also like to take on a larger leadership role for the Spartans — hopefully leading Superior to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
“I’m proud that we were able to make it to the playoffs (this year) and I really enjoyed playing with the seniors and everyone there,” Gronski said. “It was a good season, and I’m excited for next season.”
Past Football Players of the Year
2016 — Gunnar Gronski, Jr., Superior
2015 — Nate Pearson, Sr., Northwestern
2014 — Nick Mehlum, Sr., Superior
2013 — Nick Mehlum, Jr., Superior
2012 — Ben Erickson, Sr., Superior
2011 — Justin Alexson, Sr., Northwestern
2010 — T.J. Polkoski, Sr., Northwestern
2009 — Ryan Miesbauer, Sr., Northwestern
2008 — Joe Reichert, Sr., and Chris Blake, Sr., Superior
2007 — Chris Blake, Jr., Superior
2006 — Max Phillips, Sr., Superior; and Austin Lind, Sr., Northwestern
2005 — Kiel Fechtelkotter, Sr., Northwestern
2004 — Clayton Leith, Sr., Northwestern
2003 — Clayton Leith, Jr., Northwestern
2002 — Chad Izzard, Sr., Superior; and Mark Simonson, Sr., Northwestern