Q&A with Bruce Gradkowski
In 2000, Seton-La Salle quarterback Bruce Gradkowski passed for more yards than any other football player in Pennsylvania that season. He broke fellow Pittsburgh native Dan Marino's single-season state record for touchdown passes.
It was a sign of good things to come for the 24-year-old Gradkowski, who went on to a stellar college career at the University of Toledo before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the 25th pick in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
After a preseason last year in which he recorded the highest passer rating of any Tampa Bay quarterback, Gradkowski began his rookie season backing up Chris Simms, for whom he replaced when Simms suffered a ruptured spleen.
Gradkowski set a record for throwing the most passes in NFL history (200) before throwing a second career interception, but during a string of 11 starts for Tampa Bay, he faced the Steelers at Heinz Field and threw three interceptions in a 20-3 loss.
Now in his second NFL season, Gradkowski, a Dormont native, is the backup to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia, for whom the Bucs signed during the offseason. Gradkowski recently spoke to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports writer Dave Mackall.
Q: Every year, it seems, Western Pennsylvania showcases some strong high school football teams. You are one of many former WPIAL and City League players to make it to the NFL. What's your take on the quality of high school football in this area?
A: There's a lot of great players coming out of Western Pennsylvania. It's good to see us get some recognition. Obviously, there have been a lot of players to go on to this level."
Q: How much do you keep in touch with those outside your family here at home?
A: I'm always coming back to Pittsburgh. It's my hometown. Of course, all of my family is from there, and I've got a brother that just graduated. I stay in touch with (Montour coach) Lou Cerro (who coached Gradkowski at Seton-La Salle) and I speak to (current Seton-La Salle coach) Greg Perry often.
Q: What about others• Your playing days in the WPIAL had to be a special time for you, no?
A: Pennsylvania -- specifically Western Pennsylvania -- is the best place to play. That's where I got a lot of memories, especially with the Steelers. I was raised to be hard-nosed. My parents began that line of thinking and it went all the way up the ladder to my high school coaches. The only way you can be when you play is hard-nosed.
Q: Can you reflect back to after high school, when you put up some great numbers at the University of Toledo?
A: It just helped me a lot because I was put into a lot of challenging situations. I felt like not a whole lot was given to me. When I got there, I redshirted but I ended up starting three years. I thank my parents and I thank my teammates and coaches for keeping me working hard because I had to complete hard for that job and it took a lot of work and the right attitude.
Q: Just like Western Pennsylvania, the Mid-American Conference, where you played in college, has developed a lot of NFL talent, and not just quarterbacks. Take (DE) Jason Taylor (Akron/Woodland Hills). He's really been a star for Miami. What satisfaction, if any, do you take in talking about being a MAC product?
A: I feel like there's some great quarterbacks to come out of the MAC -- Charlie Frye (Akron/Seattle Seahawks), Chad Pennington (Marshall/New York Jets), and, of course, Ben Roethlisberger (Miami (Ohio)/Steelers). There's a lot of guys out there. The MAC is a very competitive league with a lot of underrated teams.
Q: How are you dealing with your role with the Bucs as a backup quarterback this season• You had an opportunity to start last year, and now you are in a different spot since Jeff Garcia arrived. He's really had some big years lately. How does a guy, such as yourself, carry on in changing roles?
A: You just have to keep plugging away. I just have to take last year and realize that there were a lot of positive things to build on. Not a lot of rookie quarterbacks have had the opportunity that I've had. Jeff is a great veteran and I fully intend on learning a lot by continuing to work with him, so that when I get the chance again, I'll be ready to go.
Q: What direction do you see the Bucs going?
A: We're definitely going in the right direction. We've got a great nucleus of players. This league is a tough league. It's very unique for teams to win year-in and year-out, but but I definitely see that in our future. We have a great coaching staff and just a great group of guys.
Q: Back to Pittsburgh, Bruce. Your roots. Talk about what it means to be from this area and to experience it. There's more to it than football, but Friday nights here are special, wouldn't you say?
A: I think there's nothing like Friday night football in Western Pennsylvania. I just feel like it's the atmopshere, the weather that makes it so great. It's still hot down here in Florida. I miss the fall weather and I appreciate the thought of spending time there with my family and friends.