Moving from quarterback to running back last spring wasn’t all that difficult of a transition for Garrett Groshek.
The Amherst High graduate did rush for nearly 4,500 yards and 57 touchdowns during his prep career, after all, and handling the ball as a running back felt more like a tweak than a full-blown change.
If anything, remaining a quarterback during his redshirt season at the University of Wisconsin only helped when an inevitable position switch finally came his way a couple weeks before the Badgers opened practice in March of 2017.
“He knows the offense inside and out,” UW running back Jonathan Taylor said. “So the way he reads things, he’s reading it from a quarterback perspective, but he’s doing it from the running back position. He kind of knows what a defense is going to be before the ball’s even snapped.”
That vast knowledge pushed Groshek into playing time as a redshirt freshman last season, and his role’s continuing to expand as a sophomore.
As the Badgers’ primary passing-down back, he’s gained 200 yards on 27 touches through the season’s first four games and stands as UW’s third-leading receiver with 98 yards on nine catches.
Groshek picked up two first downs on the Badgers’ 88-yard, game-winning drive at Iowa two weeks ago, including a 5-yard catch on third-and-5 from the Iowa 37-yard line.
“We have great trust in him,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “I think (running backs coach John Settle) challenged him after some early games and kind of opened that third-down role up, and he’s responded. And he’s gotten better every game.”
Groshek only caught four passes last year and began that season behind Taylor, Bradrick Shaw, Chris James and Rachid Ibrahim in the pecking order at running back.
He’s nearly made the passing-down role his own in 2018, pushing his snap count significantly ahead of James in recent weeks.
“I just think he’s a do-it-all kind of guy,” UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “I think he’s our best pass pro guy, just going against him in practice, and I think he does a lot for this offense. It definitely started this offseason with him just getting stronger and faster and becoming a leader on this team. You can see that when he’s out there on offense.”
Groshek even has his own wildcat package, which the Badgers pulled out during a crucial drive against Purdue last season and again in their win over the Hawkeyes two weeks ago.
“He’s really diverse in what he can do,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “He really could throw the ball if he had to.”
Groshek said he’d still like to impact games more often without the ball in his hands by improving as a pass protector – whether it’s being more consistent when staying in the backfield or successfully chipping rushers as he’s heading out on a route.
He’s certainly already carved out a major role in UW’s offense moving forward, though, and coaches only envision him improving from here.
“I put in a lot of time with Coach Settle to try to learn as much as I could as fast as I could (last year),” Groshek said. “Just that year under my belt and the offseason work that we had put in, I knew I’d be on the field a little bit more, and I just kind of took it from there.”