For Bruce Gradowski, the philosophy to which much has been given, much is expected certainly rings true.
Even after retirement from professional football, the Dormont native continues to live that philosophy.
Gifted with a great many talents, Gradkowski has expanded his influence in the region and he is now involved in helping to care for the elderly.
Gradkowski is the owner and CEO of Pilgrimage Hospice based in Pittsburgh. Though currently a Toledo resident, he said he returns to the area “a few times” each month “as needed” to insure those of an advanced age receive the comfort, quality of life, support and guidance needed to navigate through life’s final journey.
“Developing hospice here was a way for me to give back to the community,” Gradkowski said. “I had done a lot of research on hospice and it really is a service a lot of people should utilize if they are able to and learn more about it. We provide a good service because the staff we have really is a blessing. It’s not just a job for them. It’s a calling. I’m just really blessed.”
Gradkowski acknowledged his good fortune during his induction into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.
“It’s very humbling,” Gradkowski said.
“When one considers all the great players that have come out of the WPIAL and played in Western Pennsylvania it is unbelievable.
“So getting the call was exciting,” he continued. “It brings back a lot of great memories and actually made you reflect on just how blessed I am and how much God has led the way and opened doors.”
After attending St. Margaret’s Elementary School in Green Tree, Gradkowski matriculated to Seton La Salle High School. The 2001 Almanac Male Athlete of the Year threw for 1,630 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, but shattered WPIAL records as a senior with 2,978 yards. His 30 touchdowns surpassed the previous mark held by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, a Pittsburgh Central Catholic graduate.
“When they said Dan Marino, I said ‘are you kidding me? Maybe they didn’t keep stats back then or they didn’t let him throw so much back then,” Gradkowski said. “Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as him was unbelievable.”
Gradkowski and Marino, however, came from the same stock. Their fathers both worked together at a Pittsburgh newspaper and of course, they hailed from Western Pennsylvania.
“Tough, disciplined, hard-working,” said the 36-year-old son of Bruce and Debbie Gradkowski. “That’s where I got it from. When I think back to my high school days at SLS, and if you were to tell me that I would have played 11 years in the NFL, I wouldn’t believe you. While I couldn’t have done this without my parents and their guidance, I just know that God has led the way.”
While there was a window of opportunity with several scholarships to play basketball, Gradkowski followed the opening offered at Toledo. Gradkowski shattered 27 school passing records, including career yards (9,225) and completions (766). He closed out his collegiate career earning MVP honors in the GMAC Bowl.
“Not having many scholarship offers coming out of high school for football made me the person I am,” Gradkowski said. “The opportunity at Toledo was the right one and it helped me develop to be the player in football that I was able to become.”
Gradkowski was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His 11-year career featured stops in St. Louis, Cleveland, Oakland and Cincinnati before he retired in 2016 after three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gradkowski completed 52.9 percent of his passes (375 of 709) for 4,057 yards and 21 touchdowns during his NFL career.
As he reflected on his records and achievements, Gradkowski found it difficult to highlight a particularly standout moment in his career.
“At each stage, you have so many great memories and different memories. You are thankful for the great times, but for the hardships at time, too, because sometimes those tough moments make you who you are today.”
Gradkowski eased through the tough times because of family and friends. Throughout his NFL career, and a plethora of injuries, his wife, Miranda, was by his side. The couple has three children, Lily, 6, Roman, 3, and Lincoln, 1.
“When you reflect and look back, you are thankful for all those great memories, but what you remember most are the relationships,” Gradkowski said. “I just realized that you are not going to get to where you want to go on your own, and I have been very blessed to have a great supporting cast.”
In addition to his family, he cited teammates and coaches, from youth football through high school, including Lou Cerro, Greg Perry and Mark DeIntinis, as being instrumental in his success. With the wisdom that 36 years bestowed, Gradkowski philosophized about mentoring.
“Coaches don’t make money and they are not in it for the money,” he said. “They are in it to help kids and develop them. That’s what’s really cool. I hold my high school coaches in such high esteem and regard because of the impact they made on my life.”
In general, sports impacted Gradkowski. Their lessons enable him to lead an exceptional life off the field. Not only is he a successful executive at Pilgrimage Hospice, Gradkowski owns and operates two restaurants in Toledo. He volunteers as an assistant quarterbacks coach at Anthony Wayne High School. He also is a color analyst for the University of Toledo Rocket Football Radio Network.
“The teamwork aspect, the discipline, the hard work, the dedication learned from sports helps you with so many things,” Gradkowski said. “Sports really molded me into the person that I am today.
“And to play against great players from high school through my NFL career really makes you a better person. It’s not always about being a great football player, but it’s more important to be a better locker room guy, teammate and community guy. You can pick up those things from great players, who are great people. It’s been a true blessing to have had those different experiences and exposures throughout my life.”