MADISON — Here’s another tale of a Wisconsin Badgers walk-on filling in and making his reps count in key situations.
Though his two carries for 32 yards may seem inconsequential from afar, redshirt freshman Garrett Groshek made the most of his opportunities in critical situations during Wisconsin’s 17–9 win over Purdue on Saturday afternoon.
The Boilermakers’ offense was the one known for its trick plays and misdirection, but the Badgers displayed a new formation on a 2nd-and-11 from the Purdue 41-yard line during UW’s final offensive drive.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook was split out far to the left side of the field as Groshek, a former in-state prep quarterback and 2015 WFCA offensive player of the year, lined up in shotgun formation.
Groshek took the snap from former Amherst High School teammate Tyler Biadasz, now UW’s starting center, followed right tackle David Edwards and fullback Austin Ramesh, and ran for an 18-yard gain to the Purdue 41.
“You just get to the point where you want to have some guys that are fresh, and [we’ve] been working on a little bit of a package with him. Thought it would be a good time to use him,” head coach Paul Chryst said after the game. “He’s been going all year on our third-down [package], so he was in on the third-down conversion to [Kendric Pryor] and so that’s a guy that’s earned the right to play and [we] needed him in those situations.”
Four plays later on a 1st-and-10, Groshek took a normal handoff in the backfield from Hornibrook and gained 14 yards to move the chains once again.
This was not “mop up” or “garbage” time when reserves come in and see the field while the seconds tick off the clock. Wisconsin only led by eight points during a drive where at worst it wanted to run out the clock against an improved Purdue squad and at best put the ball in the end zone to finally put the Boilermakers away. Groshek’s carries came during pivotal moments of a one-score game for an offensive unit that littered its performance with miscues on the soggy afternoon.
“I mean, that’s kind of what every player wants to be. They want to be reliable,” Groshek said. “For me, I pride myself a lot on knowing what I got to do and when I got to do. For that, I mean, it just kind of adds confidence knowing that I have some important game reps.”
At Amherst, Groshek earned first-team all-state honors from the Associated Press and WFCA, along with the Dave Kreig Award as the state’s top senior quarterback. During that season, he completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 2,398 yards and 41 touchdowns. On the ground, he recorded 1,432 yards with 16 touchdowns. During his heralded high school career, he recorded 5,236 passing yards and 72 touchdown passes, along with 4,447 rushing yards and 57 touchdowns on the ground.
Biadasz told B5Q that it brought back memories, as both he and Groshek led Amherst to a WIAA Division 5 state championship in their final prep season. The redshirt freshman was not surprised by the results.
“No, I was anticipating of what he was going to do,” Biadasz said. “I think he is a great, great running back that we have as well—all four of them back there. I think he did a great job. I expected it out of him.”
Last season, Groshek redshirted and was listed on the Wisconsin roster as a quarterback. In the spring, his transformation to running back took shape and he received praise from Chryst after the spring game in April.
“From the moment he’s come in, he’s worked,” Chryst said on Monday. “Last year—and many of you probably saw it—he was one of the last guys to leave the field and last guy to leave the weight room. He has worked. He was a good quarterback in high school, so I think that we liked him, and this spring, where would be the best place for him? Certainly, special teams was one that jumped out to us and kind of where we were at the time with the running backs, [he] could be a good addition.
“He took that and he’d come up and meet with [running backs coach John Settle] every day, so when an opportunity comes up, he’s been preparing for it and he will continue to work. That’s who he is ... We need more guys that are going to have to step up and step into those situations, but it’s pretty neat because he did as much he could in his control to be as ready as possible, and then opportunity has presented itself and he’s been able to take advantage of that.”
Through six games, Groshek has seen limited touches, taking 19 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. The 5’11, 209-pound back has also seen time on special teams, recording three tackles. His mindset, like many walk-ons before him, shows the willingness and determination to do what’s needed for the program.
“I want to do anything I can for this team to help us win a game,” Groshek said. “So far, it’s been big time on special teams and trying to do the best that I can on every play. I know that I’m not going to get 30 touches like [Jonathan Taylor’s] going to do but I just want to do my part. Anything that I can do to help the team—frickin’ fill up water bottles, or do whatever I can to help the team.”