Prep Pryor Excelled On Defense

His future might have clearly been at quarterback, but that did not stop Terrelle Pryor from making an early impact at another position in high school. As a sophomore at Jeannette, Pa., Pryor had a memorable afternoon as a defensive lineman matched up against a highly regarded offensive tackle.

Having amassed more than 7,000 yards of total offense in his two-plus seasons as Ohio State's starting quarterback, Terrelle Pryor has proved himself to be a gifted natural athlete. As a prep sophomore at Jeannette, Pa., however, Pryor showed impressive ability at another position.

No, it wasn't wide receiver.

The nation's future No. 1 overall recruit lined up at defensive end in his early days of football and quickly made an impression on both his coaches and an early opponent. It took only a few plays into the team's first scrimmage of Pryor's sophomore season for his talent at the position to materialize.

"I remember they had a tackle who got a full scholarship to the university of West Virginia and (Pryor) made him look like mincemeat," Roy Hall, Pryor's quarterbacks coach and now the current Jeannette head coach, told "He just went around him so fast. He went to the coach and said something and the coach said, ‘He's a freak! He has freak speed!' "

The player in question was Gino Gradkowski, a four-star center prospect from Pittsburgh Seton-Lasalle who did end up committing to the Mountaineers. As a prep junior, he was lined up opposite Pryor at right tackle.

Rey Reitz, then the head coach at Jeannette and now the head man at nearby Latrobe, remembered how little time it took for Pryor to make an impact on the scrimmage.

"They tried to throw a bubble screen and he jumped up and knocked it down," he said. "Then they tried to throw a 5-yard out and he jumped up and knocked that down. Then the third play he sacked the quarterback. I felt sorry for the tackle who was trying to block him. When he did block him, Terrelle jumped up and blocked the pass. When he tried to cut him, Terrelle was in the quarterback's face."

Now a junior at the University of Delaware, Gradkowski transferred after spending two years as a reserve in the WVU program.

That afternoon against Pryor still sticks with him.

"In high school you're not used to seeing that kind of speed off the edge, so he smoked me a couple of times," Gradkowski said. "I had to adjust. He's just a tremendous athlete. He came off the ball hard. It was tough to try to adjust to that."

The same can not be said for Pryor, who said he did not remember the scrimmage in question.

"I just liked being on the field with my teammates and some of my friends back home," he said. "That was great to play defense too. I had a lot of fun. That's the high school experience."

Although he was lining up at defensive end and wide receiver and would continue to play on both sides of the ball for the rest of his prep career, the groundwork was already being laid for Pryor to eventually take over the quarterback position. As a freshman, he was not eligible to play for the Jayhawks until midseason because he had transferred back into the school district.

He took over the starting spot as a sophomore and led Jeannette to an 8-2 record that included a first-round playoff loss.

"We got together and decided if we're going to run a wing-T and shotgun and all that, let's put the ball in our best player's hands," Reitz said. "Terrelle was that guy, so we moved him to quarterback. The rest has been history."

Upon graduation, Gradkowski moved to the interior line and has played both guard spots for the Blue Hens. As a result, the lineman said he does not have other players to compare Pryor to because he does not have to block from the edge.

It was a rough afternoon for Gradkowski, but the experience is one he said he will always remember and one he relives when he sees Pryor on national television.

"It is funny because he's a quarterback now," he said. "He's a freak. He's big and he's fast so he can play wherever but it's funny that he was a D-end and I was a tackle and we went against each other as young high school kids.

"Back then I wasn't laughing, but now you can look back and laugh."

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