FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski. Frat boy.

Admit it, other than watching Gronkowski make ridiculous catches and score touchdowns each week, that’s probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think about the New England Patriots’ tight end.

His antics on social media, or just in general, portray the image of a guy who doesn’t take life too seriously, who likes to have fun.

The Patriots know otherwise.

They see someone who’s not only one of the best players in the NFL – not just at his position, but in the league – and one of the team leaders. They see someone who, for all the fun he seems to have off the field, takes the game as seriously as anyone and works to refine every bit of his craft, including blocking.

“He’s not a one-dimensional player,” said Coach Bill Belichick. “He sees football as a team game and works very hard at it.”

In his Wednesday morning press conference, Belichick was asked about Gronkowski’s leadership qualities – “Probably underrated,” said Belichick – and thus began a conversation that extended into the locker room.

While Gronkowski didn’t speak to the media, there were plenty of others willing to talk about him.

Tom Brady lauded the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski’s mental toughness and work ethic, saying he sets an example for everyone else. He said Gronkowski has had to come back from some debilitating injuries – broken arm, back surgery, torn-up knee – that cost him essentially one season.

“He’s a fun guy to be around,’ said Brady. “He goes out and performs as best as he possibly can. He does it with toughness, no matter what he’s asked to do … obviously he gets a lot of attention for catching touchdown passes but he does a lot of dirty work, too. He’s in there blocking for the backs, pass protection, and he takes a lot of pride in those things.

“He’s been out there every day this year practicing as hard as he can. He’s shown a huge commitment to all of the players, what it means to him.”

Matthew Slater, the special teams star, spoke mostly about Gronkowski’s selflessness.

“People have this idea of great leaders and how they’re supposed to be,” said Slater. “The thing about Rob and what makes him such a great leader is that he’s selfless. He’s one of the most selfless guys I’ve ever been around. For him to have accomplished all that he’s accomplished and to remain humble the way he has and continue to serve and be there for his teammates, it’s really been impressive.”

Gronkowski may not be real vocal – except when he’s celebrating, then he releases primal screams – but leads by example, according to Slater.

“If you’re not out there doing it and working hard and grinding, it’s going to be hard to have the respect of your teammates,” he said. “But this guy, with all that he’s accomplished, is one of the hardest-working guys on this football team. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make himself better and give himself an edge.”

A second-round draft pick out of Arizona in 2010, Gronkowski has an astounding 58 touchdown catches in 67 career games. He holds NFL tight end records for receiving yards (1,327), touchdown catches (17) and touchdowns in a season (18 in 2011).

Belichick tells you to forget about the statistics, which is difficult to do when the guy you’re talking about is this year averaging 17.3 yards on each of his 12 catches and already has four touchdowns in two games.

Gronkowski, said Belichick, works hard on every aspect of his game. He listens to coaches, takes what they say and works to refine his game. He’s smart and that’s probably a good thing.

“He has a lot to learn,” said Belichick. “Probably really other than quarterback, the tight end position in our offense is the hardest to play because you have all the protections, the running games, then you have routes from sideline to middle of the field, occasionally even in the backfield. There’s really no plays off mentally for that position.”

And then there’s his blocking ability.

“He’s one of our best run blockers, period, at any position,” said Belichick. “For me, him and (former New York Giants star Mark) Bavaro, they’re the two best I’ve ever had, on a consistent basis for all the different things they have to do, not just one particular kind of block. Rob takes pride in everything he does. He takes pride in a good block as much as he takes pride in a good catch. He takes pride in breaking tackles or for that matter recovering an onside kick. Whatever it is.

“He does a great job of trying to do his job, whatever he’s being asked to do, and doing it well. He’s been in a lot of different roles for us but I can honestly say I’ve never seen him do anything but try his very best at those roles, whatever it happened to be.”

So are we wrong about Gronkowski’s image? Is he not the fun-loving guy we all think he is?

Not entirely.

“He has fun,” said Slater. “He’s got a childlike joy about him when it comes to football and we all feed off of that. We get a lot of energy from him. Football is a game and it’s supposed to be fun, and a prime example is Rob Gronkowski.”