First and Last

In his last high school football game, West Virginia signee Gino Gradkowski found himself confronted with a first.

It wasn't the first time he had faced good competition, as the Seton-LaSalle offensive lineman played against quality competition in Western Pennsylvania. Nor was it notable for the talent which surrounded him on the Pennsylvania side of the Big 33 game, in which Gradkowski squared off against a team of Ohio all-stars. Instead, it was the position he played, as the WVU-bound lineman stepped into the center position for the first time in his football career.

Gradkowski knew after he signed with West Virginia that he would be playing the center position – it's just that he never expected it to come so soon. WVU offensive line coach Greg Frey, holding true to the philosophy of head coach Rich Rodriguez, values players that can play more than one position. Gradkowski, who was slotted as a guard by most observers, took a call from Frey earlier this year that heralded the change in his positional outlook. It was during that conversation that Frey told Gradkowski he wanted him to work as a center as well – a move that not only would help Frey be more flexible with his players, but also open an opportunity for Gradkowski to see action at more than one position.

"Ever since Coach Frey told me he wanted me to play center, I have been working on snaps, said Gradkowski following Pennsylvania's 28-10 win. The [Pennsylvania coaches] told me at the beginning of this week that they didn't have a true center, so I was the first one to volunteer and offer to be the center, because I wanted the experience."

So, before he ever set foot on West Virginia's field as a player, Gradkowski was lining up for a game at his new position. And while he admitted to a few butterflies, in the end the experience worked out well.

"I was so nervous before the game," Gradkowski said with a laugh as he recalled his emotions before making his first snap, "but after the first play all that goes away and you are just playing football. It's a whole different world playing center, but I am getting used to it, and I enjoyed it out there tonight."

Gradkowski had his ups and downs at the spot, which would certainly be expected of anyone playing his first game at a new position. The "whole different world" that he spoke of is easy to understand, as the center has to secure the exchange before getting into his block – something that other line positions don't have to be concerned with. And while he took a few shots as he got his first exposure to that play phase, he also delivered his fair share of good blocks, and showed the hard edge that earned him an offer from West Virginia in the form of a couple of pancake blocks where he knocked his opponent to the ground. He also showed good form in pass protection, and most importantly, didn't have any bobbles on his snaps.

"It was a great thing, to be out there at that spot, because I got some experience at center," he said. "Nothing can replace game experience, so it was great that I got a little bit of it before I go off to college."

While he certainly wouldn't be ready to snap in a college game tomorrow, Gradkowski put on a very good show for his first game at center. He allowed that he learned a lot in just the short week of practice at the Big 33 game, and should he continue his improvement at that pace, could certainly be a force in the middle of the line for Mountaineer teams of the future.

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