Football journey: Rob Gronkowski

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the type of combination player that Bill Belichick covets -- strong enough to block at the line of scrimmage and athletic enough to get down the field as a pass catcher. That explains, in part, why the Patriots traded up two spots in the second round to select Gronkowski 42nd overall.

The Patriots just beat the clock to make that draft-day trade with the Raiders. Had they not, Gronkowski could have instead been selected by the Ravens -- who later drafted two tight ends -- at No. 43.

Gronkowski isn't aware of all the behind-the-scenes details from draft day, but says he's happy to have landed in New England. He's made an immediate impact in his rookie season with 26 receptions for 322 yards and 6 touchdowns. His size is particularly an asset in the red zone, where the Patriots rank third in the NFL in terms of touchdown percentage (32 TDs in 49 trips).

The 21-year-old Gronkowski shares his football journey with ESPNBoston.com:

When he first started playing: "Seventh grade."

First position: "Quarterback."

Favorite team growing up: "I rooted for the Bills, being from Buffalo."

Favorite players growing up: "Takeo Spikes and Jeremy Shockey. Alge Crumpler, too. I liked the way they played. Spikes was on the Bills and I was always watching him. With Shockey, I was in high school when he was coming out of college and I followed him. I watched 'Crump' a lot too with the Falcons."

Mentors in his career: "My parents and my brothers. I always looked up to my family."

Playing at Williamsville (N.Y.) North High School for three years: "I was moved to tight end and defensive end at that point. Playing with my brother was a top memory, and going to the playoffs as a sophomore. We won some big games. My junior year, we beat a team ranked much higher than us -- North Tonawanda."

Moving to Western Pennsylvania and playing at Woodland Hills High School for one year: "It was pretty hectic, almost like freshman year in college. Top memories there were just dominating every team. We had a really good team."

Why he chose to attend University of Arizona: "I just saw opportunity there and liked the coaches. I just loved the place. Clemson, Syracuse and Ohio State were other considerations."

Top memories at Arizona: "Winning the Las Vegas Bowl and playing with my brother."

Lowest point at Arizona: "Freshman year when we didn't beat [Arizona State] and didn't go to a Bowl game."

Having a back injury sideline him his final season at Arizona: "It was hard watching the team play. You wanted to be out there. It makes you want to work to get back out there. It's just fun."

How it changed his expectations in the draft and why he still declared for the draft: "I knew it couldn't help me, but I just saw the opportunity. I always wanted to play in the NFL. It was always a dream. I saw that I could be playing with my three brothers, all of us in the NFL at once."

What he's learned about the Patriots and the NFL: "It's a hard-working team and it's a job. There is a lot of time spent studying and watching film. A lot more than college."

On forming a three-man TE group with Alge Crumpler and Aaron Hernandez: "Alge is a great leader, a great captain who leads by example. Playing with Aaron is fun, too. We're both rookies and we can help each other out. We all work together and help each other out."

Summing up his football journey: "I value every moment of it. It keeps going by faster and faster. I can't believe I'm here in the NFL. It seems like I was just playing in the seventh grade a couple of years ago."