College Media Geek: Andrew Grottkau, Rice University

New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t smile often. It’s such a rare occurrence, USA Today felt it important to alert the world that they had unearthed groundbreaking footage of such an occasion back in 2016.

Leave it to college journalist Andrew Grottkau to elicit both a smile AND a brief chuckle from the usually unflappable Belichick.

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A screen capture of one of the rarest sights in nature: a smiling Bill Belichick.

Grottkau, a sophomore at Rice University, managed the feat by asking Belichick about his days at Phillips Andover Academy during a news conference for this year’s Super Bowl held in Houston.

“For some reason … there was this second where it was kind of silent, which isn’t typical,” Grottkau said. “I decided to just butt right in and ask Bill Belichick a question. It was pretty surreal that he answered it.”

Grottkau said he never imagined he’d have the opportunity to interact with professional sports personalities, as he’s currently a mechanical engineering major. So how did he end up covering the Super Bowl?

“It’s kind of by accident that I got involved, but I’m really happy I did,” Grottkau said.

During his first week at Rice, his adviser noticed that he was a sports fan, and put him in contact with the sports editor of the student newspaper, the Rice Thresher. Shortly afterwards, he had his first assignment: preview Rice’s first football game of the season.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said.

The Thresher became so impressed with Grottkau’s skill covering sports, he assumed the role of sports editor during his freshman year and started writing his column The Final Kauntdown (a pun on the last three letters of his last name). When he heard the NFL planned to host the Super Bowl in hereby Houston, he realized he needed to try and cover it.

He said he didn’t know anything about the process, however he managed to acquire an account with NFL Communications, which allowed him to request press credentials for the event. Even though the Thresher does not regularly cover professional sports, he still managed to secure week-of-game passes for him and his photographer.

At the Super Bowl Opening Night (formerly Media Day), he attended his first professional news conference. He said 20-30 people crowded around Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, which differed greatly from the three to five people that usually attended Rice news conferences.

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Rice Thresher Sports Editor Andrew Grottkau interviews New England Patriots DL Trey Flowers during one of this year’s Super Bowl media-day events.

“It took a little bit of building up the confidence to actually ask a question, but once I did, I just blurted it out,” Grottkau said. “Just asking that first question really broke the ice.”

He managed to talk to some players milling around the hotel and Minute Maid Park before stunning Belechick with question about his high school days.

“I decided to enquire what he felt that year was like for him and so I got a pretty cool answer,” Grottkau said.

Phillips Andover Academy found out about Grottkau’s question via Twitter, and they they were “thrilled” about Belechick’s answer, which they posted to their Facebook account.

“It was pretty cool,” Grottkau said.

Grottkau’s currently a sophomore with the goal of expanding Rice’s coverage to online platforms.

“When I started we had very little website presence and very little social media presence,” Grottkau said.

When he became an editor, Grottkau said he wanted to run the publication’s Twitter account, which had laid dormant since 2013.

“I tried to make sure that we brought that back and were actually doing live coverage of things throughout the week,” he said.

He said his organization’s efforts to transition to providing digital content paid off once they started making an effort to post their stories more often on their Facebook page. The staff soon found the site generated more traffic than their print edition, piling up more than 4,600 likes.

Grottkau also had the opportunity to try his hand at podcasting when a fellow staff member Madison Buzzard approached him about starting a podcast devoted to covering Rice sports modeled after “Pardon the Interruption.” The duo brainstormed and researched for a couple of weeks before recording their first episode.

“We just kind of went for it the first time,” Grottkau said. “It actually ended up working really well.”

Grottkau said he hoped to release a new podcast every two weeks. Though he plans to get a job in industry once he graduates Rice, his experiences as a sports editor have left an indelible mark on him (like the time he got to watch Kris Jenkins hit the game-winning shot at the NCAA Final Four last year and interview players and Charles Barkley in the post-game madness).

“I really like it,” he said. “I don’t think I would have made it this far if I wasn’t having fun.”

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