Gronowski ready for his comeback season


Joclyn Haven

South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski running with the ball in a football game against the Iowa Hawkeyes Saturday, Sept. 3. Prior to this season, Gronowski had not played a game since he suffered a torn ACL in the Football Championship Subdivision Championship Game May 8, 2021. Now, nearly 500 days later, Gronowski is back on the field.

Abbygail Theisen, Reporter

After a devastating knee injury and a season spent on the sideline, SDSU quarterback Mark Gronowski is back and ready for his comeback season. 

The Jackrabbits earned their first win of the season Saturday with a score of 24-22 after playing the UC Davis Aggies. The win was Gronowski’s first time playing back at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium since May 8, 2021. Gronowski contributed to three touchdowns during the game, two of which he ran and the third being an improvised throw to wide receiver Tyler Feldkamp after a high snap that busted the original play. 

“We’ve just got to be better at executing all across the board,” Gronowski said after the game. “We had some ups and downs but we finished well. That’s the biggest thing. We can easily take that into our next game.”

In the 2021 spring season, Gronowski suffered a torn ACL during the Football Championship Subdivision championship game. During his rehab, he took on an unconventional leadership role on the sidelines. On the field, he was able to take control of the team to make sure the job got done. But off the field, he was forced to become a motivator, working to keep everyone positive. 

Gronowski was, “very positive, and he didn’t feel sorry for himself,” coach John Stiegelmeier said. 

“The rehab process was really, really long. It lasted about 12 months,” Gronowski said. 

The first couple of months, Gronowski stayed in his hometown of Naperville, Illinois, and received surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. 

“I wanted to go home and be with family and people who were close to me that could support me,” Gronowski said. 

The hardest part for him was sitting on the sidelines when he wanted to play, but Gronowski learned a lot from his coaches by watching how their minds processed different situations that happened on the field and thinking about how he could help his teammates off the field.

Gronowski also took the time he had off the field to mentally invest in himself by watching film. 

“I never really knew how to watch film on my own. I always had a coach with me to explain what I was watching,” Gronowski said.

Chris Oladokun, a transfer quarterback from Samford, started for the Jackrabbits during Gronowski’s time off the field. 

After watching film with Oladokun, Gronowski learned how to better analyze himself, an important development forced on him by the injury. 

Upon returning to SDSU last year, Gronowski worked with physical therapist Charlie Miller throughout the fall season. 

“We took everything slow because we had so much time and it was long, but it was a good process ,and it taught me to never give up and always be positive,” Gronowski said. 

Since Gronowski had never had a long-term injury before, he had to accept the fact he was not going to be able to play for a year. He was forced to overcome the negative thoughts in his head during the beginning of his recovery.  

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to be the same player, and I might not ever be as good as I was before,’” Gronowski said. 

But those thoughts were soon replaced with a drive to be better than before. 

Gronowski said Miller did a great job at celebrating his rehab achievements, not only by showing him the progress but also by helping him feel accomplished when he completed different tasks. 

“We would start walking the first day, and that was a big deal, or we would do more reps with heavier weight, and running in the pool,” Gronowski said. “Little achievements like that were really helpful.” 

The Jackrabbits played their opening game of the 2022 season against the Iowa Hawkeyes.. Iowa won with a 7-3 score, and neither team was able to score a touchdown, but Gronowski says it was a great experience. 

“That was a whole different animal,” Steigelmeier said. “After our mediocre offensive performance, in the locker-room, Mark came over to the defensive side and said ‘great job man, we’ll get it done. Thanks for what you did.’”

Gronowksi has tried to be a leader since his freshman year. Being the quarterback, he felt he already had a pretty big voice. 

“Being recognized by your teammates by being one of the top leaders on the team is a big honor,” Gronowski said.

Family means a lot to Gronowski. His brother Ryan was born with special needs, including cognitive epilepsy and ADHD. He played a big role in the quarterback’s football journey and how he views the world. 

“He has his own strengths. He always tries to see the best in every single person he meets, and I try to live that way too by never judging a book by its cover.” Gronowski said. “I try to understand others, and that’s what Ryan does.” 

Ryan Gronowski loves sports and competed in the Special Olympics USA Games this past year.

“I know how much he loves sports and how much he’d love to play football. He isn’t able to get that chance, so I treat every single play like it’s my last,” Gronowski said.  

The Jackrabbits No.1 goal this season is going 1-0 each week. They plan to take it day by day.

“If you go too far in the future, you’re not going to be present in the moment,” Gronowski said. “Our biggest goal is winning the national championship, but the only way we will do that is by accomplishing everything else first.” 

Gronowski isn’t the only one excited about his return this season. His teammates are also happy to see him back on the field in pads.

“Mark keeps the huddle calm and collected and keeps everyone in line,” offensive lineman Mason Mccormick said. “It means everything to have him back this season.”

Steigelmeier was told his first year as a head coach that the most important player you want coming back is your returning quarterback, and 26 years later, that still seems true. 

“I feel really good about Gronowski’s return, and it means a lot to the team because they know what Mark can do,” Stiegelmeier said.