Bruce Gradkowski is the best recruit ever to play football at the University of Toledo for coach Tom Amstutz.
"We are better because of having Bruce as a leader,'' Amstutz said. "He has a rare work ethic and a rare positive attitude. He's the whole team's quarterback. Everybody believes in him.''
Amstutz and Gradkowski are joined at the hip. They've followed similar career paths at UT.
Gradkowski, a fifth-year senior who leads the Rockets into tomorrow's Mid-American Conference West Division contest at Ball State, was a member of Amstutz's first recruiting class, in 2001.
"It's been special, because not only did I grow as a player, but coach Amstutz has grown as a coach. He's a better coach than when he first started,'' Gradkowski said. "I can see the improvement in him, just like he can probably see how I improved on the football field.''
Amstutz has won two MAC championships and taken the Rockets to three bowl games in his first four seasons.
Gradkowski is a three-year starter who has rewritten UT's record book. He's the Rockets' career leader in passing yards (7,670), completions (628) and touchdown passes (65).
Nationally, he's the first quarterback in Division I-A to complete 70 percent or more of his passes in back-to-back seasons. He completed 71.2 percent of his passes in 2003 and 70.2 percent in 2004.
Not bad for a virtually unwanted high school star who weighed less than 180 pounds and graciously accepted his only scholarship offer from a I-A school.
"I have to be honest. I thought he'd have a chance to be a good player,'' Amstutz said. "But never did I dream he could be a three-year starter and play at the level he has.''
Amstutz takes special satisfaction in Gradkowski playing so well. Amstutz is also extremely proud of the way Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native and one of the most popular athletes in UT history, has immersed himself in the Toledo community by doing countless hours of charity work, speaking with children in schools and visiting them in hospitals.
"He's willing to do anything to help the university and the football team look good, and it's all honest and genuine with him,'' Amstutz said.
Earlier this week, Gradkowski, while visiting a relative at Toledo Hospital, made the day of a young patient, a huge UT football fan, when her father asked Gradkowski if he could stop by her room and he complied.
In a thank-you message delivered to the university, the girl's father said of Gradkowski, "He was so down-to-earth and such a nice guy. My daughter has been in and out of hospitals for the last 2 1/2 years. I know she has been depressed a lot lately, but that visit by Bruce picked up her spirits enormously! I haven't seen her that happy in a while.''
Said Gradkowski: "I love Toledo. It's been like a second home for me. The fans have been great. When I first came here, it was hard to envision. But that's where it all starts - in your head. I wanted to be known as the best quarterback to come out of Toledo. I could see myself doing well here, but not to the point where I'm at.''
For three years, Gradkowski has been the face of UT's football program. He has established a legacy that should never be forgotten.
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