Groshek contributing as freshman walk-on for Wisconsin
By John Kemmeter
Following a position change in the off-season, Amherst Junction native and former Amherst High School standout Garrett Groshek has had a chance to play as a redshirt freshman walk-on for the University of Wisconsin football team this season.
The 2015 Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) Offensive Player of the Year as a senior quarterback at Amherst, Groshek spent his redshirt season last year at quarterback for the Badgers, before he was switched to running back for this season.
Along with earning a starting role on special teams, Groshek has carried the ball in each of 10th-ranked Wisconsin’s three wins this season, including a 23-yard touchdown run on the second carry of his college career.
“After a year of redshirting and not being able to play in games, it’s just been nice to be able to do what I can to help our team win,” said Groshek. “That’s the best part about being able to get on the field.”
“It’s very exciting,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “When his recruiting process was happening, I tried to tell every coach, ‘you can’t measure a guy’s drive or football knowledge, and he’s got both.’
“And I think it’s on full display as a walk-on now,” he said. “He’s getting more and more opportunities to play, and I’m very proud of him, watching what he’s doing.”
As a freshman at Amherst, Groshek earned a starting job at outside linebacker for the Falcons’ 2012 WIAA Division 5 State Championship team that went 13-0 to claim the program’s first State Title, then started at quarterback as a sophomore when the team reached the State Semifinals and finished with an 11-2 record.
He was selected as the CWC-8 Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, when the team finished as the 2014 Division 5 State Runner-up with a 13-1 record, and again as a senior, when he also won the Dave Krieg Award as the state’s top senior quarterback.
Groshek capped his senior season by being named a First Team All-State selection at quarterback and the WFCA State Offensive Player of the Year after he rushed for 1,432 yards and 16 touchdowns on 115 carries (12.5 yards per carry) and completed 128-of-186 passes (68.8 percent) for 2,398 yards, with a state-best 41 touchdowns and three interceptions, as Amherst finished 14-0 to win the Division 5 State Title for the second time in four years.
“He’s one of the smartest, hardest-working kids I’ve ever met in my life,” said Lusic. “One of my best leaders, and he was an absolute dream to coach.
“He wanted other guys to play at the level he played at, and I think he did a great job of trying to raise guys up and try to bring everybody up to his level,” he said. “He was a special player.”
The top school to offer the 5-11, 216-pound Groshek a scholarship to play quarterback was NCAA Division II Winona State University (Minn.), while he also considered North Dakota State, which had just won its fifth consecutive NCAA Division 1 FCS National Title, before he accepted an offer to join the Wisconsin football team without a scholarship as a preferred walk-on.
“The only (scholarship) offers he had were Division II, Winona State was probably the biggest one, which for Division II, a full ride is pretty impressive,” said Lusic. “But Wisconsin came calling, asked him to walk-on, and he wanted to play with the best, that was always Garrett’s thing.
“He wanted to compete with the best, and I remember him telling me that if he didn’t, he’d always wonder if he could play with the best,” he said. “And I think that’s why he took the opportunity to walk on.”
“It wasn’t much of a tough decision,” said Groshek, who was a WIAA Scholar Athlete Award recipient as a senior at Amherst. “I wanted to succeed at the highest level.
“I wanted the biggest challenge out there, and that was Big Ten football, compared to all of the other schools that had interest in me,” he said.
Groshek was expected to be tried out at running back, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back at Wisconsin, but ended up spending his redshirt season as a freshman at quarterback.
“It was fun, I was able to actually build more relationships with defensive guys and guys in our class, just doing scout team stuff for the most part, and just trying to get as much as done as we could,” said Groshek. “It was just ‘what can I do to help the team?’”
Prior to spring ball this year, Groshek was moved from quarterback to tailback, where the Badgers had an experienced group that included sophomore Bradrick Shaw, University of Pittsburgh junior transfer Chris James and junior Taiwan Deal, as well as incoming true freshman Jonathan Taylor.
“I was surprised when he told me this spring,” said Lusic. “I was like, ‘OK, are you good with that, that’s all that really matters?’ And he was like, ‘yeah, I like it.’
“At quarterback, he was kind of buried on the depth chart,” he said. “And he just wanted to compete and he wanted to play.”
“I kind of knew that I was going to get switched at some point, so it wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Groshek. “It’s a good fit for me, the coaches thought that that was the best spot for me, and it’s been going well.”
Prior to the season opener against Utah State Sept. 1, Shaw, James and Taylor were listed as the co-starters at tailback, with Groshek one of nine tailbacks on the Badgers’ roster.
He ended up getting on the field for the kickoff return and kickoff coverage units on special teams against Utah State, and with Wisconsin up 52-10 in the fourth quarter, he lined up on offense for the first time at running back with just under five minutes to play.
Facing third down and two, Groshek gained six yards on his first carry as a Badger to pick up the first down.
On the next play, he took a handoff up the middle and broke a pair of tackles as he bounced outside on his way into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown run to give Wisconsin a 59-10 lead with 3:52 left.
“I just trusted what we did in practice, and then ended up making a play,” said Groshek. “And then everybody was excited and trying to congratulate me, and then I had to go back and cover the next kickoff after that.
“But it was definitely something that no one can take away from me,” he said. “It was a special moment.”
“I had to DVR it, we played a game that night, and I actually walked in the door, and my phone lit up,” said Lusic. “I looked at my messages and somebody said he scored, and I was a true fan, I was jumping up and down and I had a big smile on my face.
“I was very proud,” he said.
Groshek finished with 29 yards rushing and one touchdown on two carries in the 59-10 win over Utah State, and also had 10 yards rushing on five carries and caught one pass for six yards in a 31-14 win over Florida Atlantic at home Sept. 9.
Last weekend, he was on the travel roster for the team’s first road game at BYU Sept. 16, as he started on the punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kick return units, and ended up as the fourth tailback to carry the ball for the Badgers.
Groshek entered the game on offense with 13:34 remaining in the fourth quarter and finished second on the team in rushing for the game with 43 yards on nine carries, as Wisconsin rolled to a 40-6 win over BYU to improve to 3-0.
“Me and (senior running back Rachid Ibrahim) are waiting all game usually, hopefully we get up by enough scores where me and him can get in and be able to carry the rock a little bit,” said Groshek, who has also recorded a tackle on special teams in each of the Badgers’ first three games. “It’s something that you have to be ready for, and it’s definitely something that you’ve got to take advantage of, because you know you’re not going to get a whole lot of opportunities.”
In the win over BYU, Groshek also got to run behind his former Amherst High School teammate and current roommate Tyler Biadasz, who is the starting center for the Badgers as a redshirt freshman, after the two have played football together since grade school.
“Really there hasn’t been anything different, we’ve been playing sports together our whole lives, so it’s really not something that you even notice,” said Groshek. “It’s just nice to be able to have someone that you can talk to about stuff back home or your families, and you have someone that knows exactly what you’re talking about.
“But it’s not a big change-up, because we’ve been playing together since we were probably 6 years old,” he said.
Groshek’s parents Wayne and Jill also traveled to Provo, Utah, last weekend for the BYU game to watch their son play on the road for the first time in college, and he said they’ve been the foundation of everything that he’s been able to do in football, from a young age to playing football in the Big Ten as a walk-on.
“I wouldn’t have been able to choose Wisconsin if it wasn’t for them,” said Groshek. “They’ve helped me with everything, and my grandparents have helped too, so I haven’t had to have a job to help pay for it.
“So I just really can’t thank them enough for everything that they’ve done,” he said.
The Badgers have off this weekend, before they open the Big Ten season at home against Northwestern at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, as they look to contend for the Big Ten West Title and stay in the mix for the four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the season.
“It’s pretty much the same as every other team in the country, you don’t really plan to lose a game,” said Groshek, who is fourth on the team in rushing this season with 82 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. “We’re going to try as much as we can to make sure we win every game, and if we end up being able to do that, that puts us in the National Championship Game and winning the National Championship, although it’s a lot harder to do than it is to say.
“I’m just trying to do my part to help the team, as far as individual goals,” he said. “And then I know it’s the same thing as in high school, every senior wants to go out on top, so I’m just doing the best that I can for those guys that it’s their senior year and it’s their last chance to play college football.”
“I know he’ll give it everything he’s got, he’ll work his tail off and he’ll continue to get better,” said Lusic. “He just wants to play and compete, and I know he wants the Wisconsin Badgers to be successful, not just himself.
“He’s the ultimate team guy, and I think that’s why he gets a lot of respect down there in Madison, because he will do anything you ask him to do,” he said. “If it’s special teams or if it’s carrying the ball, whatever it is, he’ll do his job and he’ll give everything he’s got to help the Badgers win.
“So the sky’s the limit for him, to continue to grow as a player,” he said. “He’s only a redshirt freshman, and it’s very exciting for the town of Amherst, and I’m excited for him, too.”