Groshek earns scholarship, set for sophomore season
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After contributing at running back and on special teams as a walk-on for the University of Wisconsin football team last year, Amherst Junction native Garrett Groshek will be on scholarship this season.
The former Amherst High School standout finished third on the Badgers in rushing last season as a redshirt freshman, and last week was awarded with a scholarship for fourth-ranked Wisconsin, which is set to open the 2018 season at Camp Randall Stadium against Western Kentucky at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31.
“I’m just excited to play football,” said Groshek. “I’m ready to get back and compete and be able to play against guys in different color uniforms.”
“Garrett went to Madison as a walk-on, and I think a lot of coaches (that tried to recruit him away) told him, ‘you’re going to be a small fish in a big pond,’” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “Garrett wanted to compete at the highest level and he thought he could do it.
“And the scholarship just validates what he always believed that he could do,” he said.
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association State Offensive Player of the Year as a senior quarterback on Amherst’s 2015 State Championship team, Groshek spent his redshirt year at Wisconsin as a quarterback, before he was converted to running back before the start of last season.
Not one of the four tailbacks listed on the Badgers’ depth chart when last season began, Groshek earned a starting spot on special teams on the kick and punt coverage and kick and punt return units, while he began to see more playing time at running back as his redshirt freshman season continued.
“He had that position change in spring, and really his role wasn’t determined in the preseason,” said Wisconsin redshirt sophomore center Tyler Biadasz, Groshek’s roommate and longtime teammate growing up together in Amherst. “Last year it was more of, getting on special teams, making travel team and learning as he goes with running back.
“And then when opportunity hit him, he just took full advantage of it with all of the reps he’d taken after practice,” he said. “And I think a big term for Garrett would probably be, ‘an opportunist.’ He takes every opportunity to the maximum, and he achieves it in any way he can.”
Late in the season opener, Groshek had a 23-yard touchdown run on his second career carry in a 59-10 win at Utah State Sept. 1, and by the eighth game of the season, he came off the bench and had a season-high 51 yards rushing and one touchdown on 12 carries in a 24-10 win at Illinois Oct. 28.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin won its first 12 games last season to claim the Big Ten West Title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, where the then-fourth-ranked Badgers trailed eighth-ranked Ohio State 24-13 in the third quarter.
Groshek had a 17-yard reception and threw a nine-yard pass later on the same drive to set up a touchdown that pulled Wisconsin within 24-21 early in the fourth quarter, and with Wisconsin down 27-21 with under two minutes to play, Groshek was on the field at tailback for four of the team’s final five snaps on offense.
The Badgers went on to lose 27-21 to Ohio State, before they bounced back with a 34-24 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl to finish with a 13-1 record, as Groshek ended up third on the team in rushing with 297 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries (4.9 yards per carry).
“I was just getting ready in case I had any opportunities to get on the field, and I was able to make the most out of a lot of them,” said Groshek. “It was just being ready all of the time, and not knowing when my number would be called.”
“It was fun to watch,” said Lusic. “I coached him for four years, and now I get to just be a fan, and it’s exciting.
“There’s not a moment that’s too big for him, and he’ll prepare himself like he’s a starter,” he said. “He knows his role, if they ask him to do more or less, he’s willing to do whatever they ask him to do.”
Groshek is one of 23 letterwinners returning on offense this season for the Badgers, as he will vie for playing time at tailback behind sophomore starter and Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, along with seniors Chris James and Taiwan Deal, junior Bradrick Shaw and freshman Nakia Watson.
“It should be a fun year for us,” said Groshek. “Obviously, J.T. is going to do most of the heavy lifting, and that’s what we’re going to want to do to be successful as a team.
“And guys like me, Chris and Taiwan are going to come in and give him a breather, give him a break and really try to wear on defenses between the four of us,” he said. “And we’re just going to take it from there.”
After making the team as a walk-on the previous two seasons, last week Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst announced during a team meeting that Groshek, along with junior linebacker Tyler Johnson and junior offensive lineman Jason Erdmann, would go on scholarship for this season, as they extended the list of former walk-ons at Wisconsin to earn scholarships to 96 since 1990, which includes three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, 2017 All-American tight end Troy Fumagalli and former NFL safety and current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
“It was really cool to see the excitement of my teammates,” said Groshek. “I remember D’Cota (Dixon) and Ryan (Connelly) jumping up on me as soon as coach Chryst said it, and just about tackling me and breaking my glasses.
“So that was a really cool memory, and something that I’ll be able to remember forever,” he said.
“I’m really happy for him, from a player standpoint,” said Biadasz. “And as a long-life friend, it’s awesome to see that, and I’m really proud of him.
“He was on almost every special teams unit, and he was always practicing more reps with coach (Chris) Haering, the special teams coach, and working extra with running backs, and you see how much work he puts in,” he said. “I really think that he deserves it, and he’ll be a big-time player for us.”
Groshek said that with the support of his parents Wayne and Jill and his grandparents, he never really had to worry about paying for much as a walk-on, but that it still was an awesome feeling to be able to tell them the news.
“My mom was up north and I didn’t know if she’d have great service, so I called my dad first and I was just kind of monotone,” said Groshek. “And then I told him that they had put me on scholarship, and he started crying a little bit.
“The next time I saw him, he kind of yelled at me, he was like, ‘why did you sound like you were not happy at all, I thought you were calling to tell me that they had cut you or something like that,’” he said. “So that was pretty cool.”
After coming up a win short of a potential trip to the four-team College Football Playoff last season, Wisconsin enters this season ranked fourth in the Associated Press Poll, and again has hopes of contending for the Big Ten West Title, as well as the National Championship.
“You’re going into every game with the mentality to win, and if you keep doing that and are able to do that, you end up with a chance to play for the National Championship,” said Groshek. “So, obviously it’s something that we want to do, and we want to have a really good year for these seniors, to send them out on the right note.
“But it comes back to improving on the little things as much as we can before the season starts,” he said. “I just want to help the team out, and give the team the best chance that we can to win the game.”
“I’m proud of him, and I’m happy that he’s on scholarship,” said Lusic. “Garrett’s never going to stop working, he’s still going to work his tail off, and he just wants to get better and help the team win.
“Hopefully he’ll be on all of the special teams again, and get a chance to compete in the offensive backfield,” he said. “But he’ll do whatever they ask him to do, and we’re happy to watch.”