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PEM running back carries on with heavy heart

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Aaron Grobe

ELGIN — Aaron Grobe didn’t have to look far for a good example when he was becoming a young football player in the Plainview-Elgin-Millville school district.

He just had to go down to the basement at his home in rural Elgin and see how much effort his older brother Ross put into it.

"During the football season he’d always be in the basement studying his playbook, and he was serious about it; he would pretty much know everyone’s assignment on every play," Aaron recalled.

"Whenever I watched football I watched Ross because I knew he was doing it the right way. He pretty much taught me everything I know about the game."

Aaron learned his big brother’s lessons well. Last season as a junior he led a PEM rushing attack that was the best in the Three Rivers Conference and helped carry the Bulldogs all the way to the Section 1AAA championship game.

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Now Aaron Grobe is back as a senior leader of another PEM team with good numbers and great expectations. He only wishes that Ross was here to share it with.

The Grobe family, which also includes Aaron’s parents Dale and Kathie and his older sister, Holly, is still coming to terms with Ross’s death in a June 13 accident near their home.

"I have my good days and bad days, you know," Aaron said. "I’ll never stop missing him."

Ross, a 2009 PEM graduate and RCTC student, was a three-sport standout in high school who played three varsity seasons in football, basketball and baseball. In his senior football season he rushed for 1,000 yards, was the conference offensive player of the year, and was all-state honorable mention.

But beyond his production on the field, PEM head football coach Bill Ihrke remembers Ross the fun-loving kid.

"He always had a smile on his face, lightening the mood in every situation he was in," Ihrke said. "But he was a fierce competitor; when it was time to play he’d go hard. He loved to compete."

Ross Grobe will continue to inspire the Bulldogs this season. The team’s helmets will have a decal on the back, a cross in the middle of a circle with the initials R.G. above the cross and his old uniform number 28 below it.

Aaron said he will wear a quarterback’s sleeve on his forearm with Ross’s graduation picture in it. In the photo, Ross wears his football jersey and clutches the prized sledge hammer that PEM won in its rivalry game with Caledonia that year.

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"He’ll be with me on every play," Aaron said.

Ihrke sees the same competitive drive in Aaron, who, at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, is a compact version of Ross, who was 6-1 and 200 as a senior.

"Aaron is a very powerful runner in his own right, but he’s probably a little quicker than Ross and is more likely to run away from someone than over them," Ihrke said.

PEM led the TRC last season with 2,500 rushing yards in eight regular season games, and Grobe was one of three backs who averaged over a whopping 10 yards per carry, along with returning seniors Garret Wolf and Jack Ihrke.

But neither Ihrke nor Grobe were on the field when PEM’s season ended in the section title game with a 41-14 loss to Lourdes, the eventual state champ. Ihrke sustained a torn ACL in the third game and was lost for the season. Grobe suffered a broken collarbone in the section semifinal win over Cannon Falls.

"I felt like I was letting my team down, but it was something that was out of my control," said Grobe, who finished with 700 yards rushing and a team-high 13 touchdowns.

Grobe noted that four of five offensive linemen graduated from last year’s team, but he doesn’t think will prevent PEM from running the ball effectively again in 2012.

"We have a great group of juniors and some younger kids who are stepping in and they have just been fantastic; I love my blocking," he said with conviction. "I’m not too worried about our line."

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