LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Plenty of teenagers have replica jerseys of their favorite NFL player. Tawfiq Baity (ter-FEEK’ BAYE’-tee) had his hand-delivered by his football idol.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski surprised the 17-year-old junior at Lockport High School outside Buffalo by walking into his history class Tuesday morning and handing him a New England jersey with Gronkowski’s name and No. 87.
Gronkowski is the teen’s favorite player on his favorite team. Gronkowski was accompanied by his brother, Dan, a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. The brothers grew up in the nearby Buffalo suburb of Williamsville.
Baity has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He came to Gronkowski’s attention after appearing in a “get-well” video Lockport students produced for the player after he broke his arm late last season.
Earlier in the day during a radio interview, Rob Gronkowski brushed off the criticism he received after he was videotaped performing a wrestling move on a friend while his arm was in a cast, saying he would never do something he thought would put his health at risk.
“They’re my fans,” Gronkowski said. “They’re looking out for ... they’re big fans of the Patriots and they just want to see the team do well. I totally understand where the fans are coming [from], where they don’t want [me] to put myself in jeopardy of getting hurt. I totally understand that. I would never do that, put myself in jeopardy.
“To the max, I love going out there every week and performing to the best of my ability, and I love going out there playing. I understand where they are coming from. They just don’t want to see me hurt again. That’s totally understandable.”
Did the Patriots talk to him about it?
“Whatever I talk to [with] the Patriots, we stay confidential. We really don’t give anything out,” Gronkowski said. “Basically, just coming from myself, [I] just have to watch out who’s out there, who’s watching and everything, and basically just keep doing what I’ve been doing since Day 1. That’s what got me here this far.”
The 23-year-old Gronkowski, who has earned a reputation as a partier, said he is still adjusting to life in the spotlight.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “Growing up, just doing whatever you want and no one looking at you and no one really caring, and now you go out, and I was in the airport on the way here, and everyone has their camera out videoing me walking through the airport. It’s weird at first, but you just can’t let it get to your head at all, affect you at all and just keep doing what you’ve been doing since Day 1, which I have been.”
Sporting a new goatee, Gronkowski also provided an update on his recovery from three different surgeries on his left forearm, the last one for an infection.
“I’m doing a lot better, definitely. Feeling a lot better. My arm is feeling way better than it was during the playoffs and regular season when I broke it,” Gronkowski said.
“Right now, just rehabbing, getting the muscle stronger around it. You want to get everything activated, re-activated, because it shuts down for a little bit when it’s healing. Just rehabbing, and when my trainers give me the ‘good to go,’ hopefully in the next couple weeks, hopefully as soon as possible ... I can get rolling again and get back in the weight room and get back on the field and do what I love doing — running around and catching some balls.”
Gronkowski first broke the arm in a game against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 18. He missed five games and returned for the regular-season finale but broke the arm again early in the first quarter of the Patriots’ divisional-round loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He played 11 games in 2012, catching 55 balls for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns.