Nansemond-Suffolk wide receiver Isaiah Fuhrmann '23 knew something was up when the football team deviated from its normal schedule two weeks ago.
It began earlier in the week when Saints coach Mike Biehl told the team he had a surprise for them.
“My mind was racing and I’m wondering what could it be,” said Fuhrmann, a senior. “There were a few rumors going on about what was going to happen.”
The only thing the players knew was that someone was going to speak to them via Zoom.
“We just prepared ourselves and got ready,” Fuhrmann said.
But nothing could have prepared them for this.
After a brief introduction by Jason Fawcett, a parent of a Nansemond-Suffolk Middle School student, the screen in the auditorium went black.
Within a matter of seconds, former NFL player Rob Gronkowski and his family appeared on the screen.
“It was legitimately like watching a movie because at first they didn’t understand, then someone yelled, ‘Oh, that’s Rob Gronkowski,'” said Biehl, who added that Fawcett set up the surprise Zoom because he does business with the Gronkowskis. “From there, each one of the Gronkowskis had a different portion of the talk. Rob talked about being a family and really battling with your brothers. Gordie talked about not giving up. He was the undersized one who really had to find his niche as a ballplayer, and he did it by outworking people.”
The entire family spoke, giving the Saints an unforgettable experience.
“He got us good,” Fuhrmann said about Biehl. “I was definitely thinking a football player, but this was a complete surprise. I was just in awe. These are champions and some of the best in their sport. It was a great experience to be able see them and have them talk to us as a team about what we needed to do as a team.”
Rob Gronkowski played 11 seasons in the NFL, including nine with the New England Patriots, then played his final two seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is regarded as one of the greatest tight ends of all time and is a four-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowl selection. He was selected as part of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
His father, Gordon, played for football at Syracuse from 1977 to 1981. Rob Gronkowski’s four brothers — Gordie, Dan, Chris and Glenn — all played collegiate sports and later professionally. They now co-own Gronk Fitness, a fitness gear and lifestyle brand that partners with industry leaders like Life Fitness and Xtreme Monkey to outfit commercial and home gyms with fitness equipment.
Fuhrmann said the Gronkowskis gave him and his teammates a lot to think about.
“It was extremely helpful. I’m blessed to be able to play college ball at the next level. And having that extra insight of working hard and the importance of being a team and not only being connected to the players, but the coaches and everyone on the sideline was good,” he said. “We’re going into this season where we think we can win it all. I think this was a good wake-up call for us.”
Biehl said, as coaches, they can say the same thing the Gronkowskis said, but it’s different coming from them.
“A lot of us teach the same ideas to our kids in terms of persevering, putting in the preparation, putting your best foot forward, treating people the way you want to be treated,” he said. “But when those same things are said by a future hall of famer, and other guys who have succeeded at really high levels, it’s different. It’s the same message, but it’s just given from a hero of theirs. And that’s where the impact is felt.”
This article was written by Larry Rubama and first appeared in The Virginian Pilot.