BY JOEL SENSING | MIRROR SPORTS — This fall marks the first time Bruce Gradkowski hasn’t been playing football since he was 8 years old. Not that the former NFL and University of Toledo quarterback will be far from the gridiron, however. Gradkowski, who resides in the Anthony Wayne school district, has been working with the Generals football team this summer as a volunteer coach. After meeting with AW coach Andy Brungard at one of Gradkowski’s restaurants, Social Gastropub in Perrysburg, the Pittsburgh native agreed to help work with quarterbacks and receivers to pass along wisdom and knowledge acquired through three NCAA and nine NFL seasons. “I’ve appreciated and had a good time being around the guys and helping,” Gradkowski said during AW’s Blue-White festivities at Schaller Stadium, which caps the summer workout season. Gradkowski, who in 2000 broke a high school league single-season passing record (2,978 yards and 30 touchdowns) set by Hall of Fame passer Dan Marino, said coaching at the high school level wasn’t on his radar prior to speaking with Brungard. “I thought about possibly getting into the NFL or college coaching, and I talked to a few NFL coaches after I was done playing. … I didn’t think I’d coach high school, but I’m actually enjoying it more than I thought.” Ultimately, Gradkowski decided to stay closer to home due to family matters. He and his wife Miranda just welcomed their third child, Lincoln, on July 2. They have two other children – 4-year-old Lily and 2-year-old Roman. Brungard said it’s an invaluable opportunity to have Gradkowski pass his knowledge on to his squad. “Regardless of his NFL experience – which is pretty priceless to have out here – he’s really good with the kids, he’s really good with fundamentals and he communicates in a way that’s not confusing. He’s a good coach to have on the field.” Having the opportunity to mold the youths into the best football players and people they can be has proven to be a worthwhile venture for the 34-year-old Gradkowski, who played on five teams throughout his nine-year NFL career. “These kids are so young and growing and developing,” he said. “You can help them more at this stage, so it’s really enjoyable.” The 6-foot-1, 220-pound quarterback said he tells the kids there’s a lot that goes into being a successful football player. “No. 1, it’s not just about ability,” he said. “It comes down to mental toughness and having the right kind of attitude – worrying about what you can control and being a leader out there on the field. It’s about showing up on time, knowing what you’re supposed to do, listening to your coach and being a good example for your fellow teammates. “I know in my career, I was never the biggest or had the strongest arm, but I knew if I tried to come with the right kind of attitude, approach practice the right way, things would work out. That’s what I try to instill in these young kids.” Gradkowski has been impressed with what he’s seen from the AW passers this summer. “I think (junior) Max Denman has been doing a great job. Of course, Nick (Schneider) being a senior leader on the team and Zach (Szul, a sophomore) has been doing a great job,” he said. “It’s great seeing these young guys and their development since March. I’m very excited for the season.” Denman, who played on the junior varsity squad last year, said he’s enjoyed learning the game from someone with Gradkowski’s pedigree. “It’s been an awesome opportunity for me and the other QBs on the team to develop and learn that much more about football – we are blessed to have him here,” Denman said. “My knowledge of football has improved so much since he’s been here because he’s taught me how to call and run the offense and how to recognize and read a defense. “Also, I think he’s taught me how to be mentally tougher, which is half the battle in football.” Schneider served primarily as the starting quarterback last season, when he shared the role with graduated senior and All-Ohio player Evan Brown. “It’s awesome working with (Gradkowski),” Schneider said. “He’s got so much experience on the field. He teaches us so much about dropping back, your arm position when you throw the ball, making the right reads. He just knows so much.” Gradkowski will try to be on the sidelines under the Friday night lights as much as possible, working in conjunction with his duties as a radio color analyst for University of Toledo games. Although his playing days may be over, Gradkowski is excited to still have an outlet for his pigskin passion. “I’m glad Andy reached out to me and I really think he does a great job with the kids,” he said. “He has a great staff around him and a lot of good, young players. These kids work hard and they have a good attitude. It’s good to see.” Gradkowski said he believes this year’s Generals squad can accomplish great things coming off a record-breaking season that saw AW advance all the way to the state Final Four. “I think the sky’s the limit for them,” he said. “They definitely have enough ability to go as far as they want to go. I think it’s them just staying focused on one week at a time, one practice at a time and only worrying about what you can control.” The Generals open the season on Friday, August 25 vs. St. Francis at Gradkowski’s old stomping grounds, UT’s Glass Bowl.