Family Ties

A Pennsylvania lineman with family ties to both West Virginia and Toledo visited the former for the Mountaineers' win over Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, and received a verbal offer from the WVU staff.

"I liked the atmosphere walking out of tunnel," said Gino Gradkowski of Seton-LaSalle High School. "The crowd was really into it. I brought down a film and gave it to Coach Trickett, and they made a verbal offer to me."

Although just a junior, Gradkowski is already turning many heads (such as the Mountaineers') with his excellent footwork and road-grader blocking. He plays offensive and defensive tackle for Seton-LaSalle, but expects that he is ticketed for an offensive guard slot in college due to his height.

With many seniors still waiting to hear about offers, Gradkowski was impressed that he has already gotten scholarship tenders from both West Virginia and Toledo.

"It's an honor to get an offer that early, especially from a school like West Virginia," Gradkowski said. "It makes you want to work harder to improve, but it's also a good feeling to know that everything you did – all that hard work -- has paid off."

The big lineman certainly isn't going to rest on his laurels, however. He plans to continue working out in preparation for his senior year, and won't let anything, not even the recruiting process, get in the way of that.

"I will definitely go to as many camps as I can next summer and let everyone know what I'm about and how I play, but I won't let it interfere with school practice or lifting," said the focused Gradkowski. "I want to do everything I can for my senior year, and I will worry about college after that."

If it sounds as if Gradkowski has a good plan, it's because he has already experienced the process with another family member. Brother Bruce, an outstanding quarterback, is wrapping up his senior season at Toledo, and Gino witnessed much of the recruiting game as his brother went through it.

"I learned you can never get your hopes up, because recruiting is a tough thing," Gradkowski said with the voice of experience. "The coaches try to do their best, but they can't please everybody. I plan to keep my options and see how it all works out."

The family ties to Toledo might seem to be strong ones, but West Virginia has an ace in the hole in that department in the form of Carmen Connolly, who is greyshirting this fall. Connolly and Gradkowski are cousins who played together at Seton-LaSalle, and the big lineman admits it would be a kick to reunite with Connolly in 2007.

"He seemed really happy about me getting an offer," Gradkowski said of Connolly, who will join the Mountaineers in the spring. He was really excited for me. The possibility that we could play together is interesting. We lived about seven seconds from each other (Gradkowski's mother and Connolly's mother are sisters) so we were together all the time.

Despite those two recruiting ins, neither WVU nor Toledo would seem to have a lock on Gradkowski's services. He speaks thoughtfully about the recruiting process, and it is clear that he wants to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, but he also admits that West Virginia would be a solid choice.

"Right now West Virginia would be my top choice because of how big it is, and being in the Big East and everything, but I'm not worried about that or thinking a lot about it right now. I first want to work on my senior season and do everything I can to get ready for it. There's a lot of things I can get better at, like staying low and firing off the ball. You can never be good enough, and I have to keep working hard.


  • Gradkowski, who also attended the WVU-East Carolina game, was at one of West Virginia's camps this summer, and plans to attend again this year, so long as it does not conflict with Seton-LaSalle's summer practices.

  • Although he has not put a lot of thought into what he is looking for in a college yet, he does have some general ideas.

    "I'd like to go to a place where I would feel most comfortable, get to playing time, and have a chance to play on a winning team. West Virginia is definitely a place I could do that."

  • Gino will get a front-row look at a different kind of recruiting soon, when brother Bruce completes his college career in a bowl game and begins working out for NFL scouts.

    "I'm sure it's a lot of pressure on him, but he doesn't talk a lot about it," the younger Gradkowski said. "I'm sure there is a lot on him, but you can tell he is a tough player. When he goes out there and plays, not a lot bothers him.

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