Varsity Notebook: Brothers as NFL foes are a rarity

Gradkowskis only the third set from WPIAL school

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When Bruce and Gino Gradkowski both got in the game late in the fourth quarter during Monday Night Football four days ago, announcer Al Michaels gave them some love, noting how the brothers were going against each other.

It was a nice way for Michaels to fill some airtime during an NFL blowout on national television. But when the Gradkowskis got into the game, it also was an historical moment for WPIAL football.

The Gradkowskis both played at Seton-LaSalle High School. Bruce Gradkowski is a backup quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals and his younger brother, Gino, is a rookie backup offensive lineman with the Baltimore Ravens. According to a list supplied by Pennsylvania Football News of every Pennsylvania high school football player who ever played in an NFL regular-season game, the Gradkowskis are only the third set of brothers from the WPIAL to play against each other, and the first in almost 50 years.

"Wow," said Debbie Gradkowski, their mom. "I knew it wasn't common, but I didn't know it was that rare."

The only other brothers from the WPIAL who played against each other in the NFL were the Sauls from Butler, and the Modzelewskis from Har-Brack Union (now part of the Highlands district).

There have been a few other sets of brothers who made the NFL, but they didn't play against each other. Two years ago, the Ventrones of Chartiers Valley were both in the NFL at the same time -- Ross with the New England Patriots and Ray with the Cleveland Browns. But when the Patriots played the Browns, Ross was on the Patriots' practice squad.

Three Saul brothers actually played in the NFL -- twin brothers Ron and Rich were offensive linemen and Bill a linebacker. Ron and Rich both played in the NFL from 1970-81 and went against each other in the 1970s when Ron played for the Washington Redskins and Rich with the Los Angeles Rams.

Bill played from 1962-70, including a few years with the Steelers, but never played against one of his brothers.

The Modzelewskis played against each other a few times in the mid to late 1950s -- once when Dick was with the Steelers and Ed with the Cleveland Browns, and then again when Dick was with the New York Giants and Ed with the Browns.

For the Gradkowskis matchup, Debbie, her husband (Bruce Sr.) and about 25 other family members and friends made the trip to Baltimore for the game. Bruce is 29 and Gino 23.

"It was very emotional," Debbie Gradkowski said. "It got emotional mostly before the game, when they ran out and when they warmed up. But when they are playing the national anthem and you look down and see both of your sons on each sideline ... that's when I really lost it."

2-0 a big deal

Starting the season 2-0 might not be a big deal for most high school football teams, but it hasn't happened at Avella in 36 years.

Avella is 2-0 for the first time since 1976. That year, the Eagles finished the regular season 8-0. The WPIAL didn't have playoffs for Class A back then, but there was a championship game. Avella qualified for the title game and lost to Western Beaver.

Avella has been one of the weakest programs in the WPIAL for a number of years. Not to dampen the enthusiasm at Avella, but Avella's start has come against West Greene and Vincentian. West Greene has one win over the past five seasons and Vincentian started a football program only this season.

Burgettstown matinees

There will be no Friday night lights at Burgettstown, at least for the next month.

A year ago, Burgettstown moved its home games from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons because its lights weren't safe. The school hoped to have a new lighting system in place for this season, but the project still isn't done.

So, the Blue Devils will continue to play home games on Saturday afternoons. There is a chance the lights could be ready by the end of the season.

One for the ages

It's not often you see a game where one running back rushes for more than 300 yards and another for more than 200. But it happened last Friday when Isiah Neely of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart rushed for 310 yards and Western Beaver's Zach Perry ran for 223.

It brought back memories of a similar regular-season game in 2009 when Hopewell's Rushel Shell rushed for 349 yards and West Allegheny's Mike Caputo 218.

Half is enough

South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh has thrown for almost 500 yards in two games and has eight touchdown passes. And he hasn't thrown a pass in the second half of a game yet.

South Fayette has easily won its first two games against McGuffey and Keystone Oaks and the Lions have taken it a little easy on their opponents in the second half.

Davis to prep school

Former Central Catholic basketball standout Lincoln Davis signed in the spring with Fairfield University, a Division I school in Connecticut. But Davis didn't qualify academically to be eligible as a freshman, so he is now attending New Hampton School in New Hampshire.

New Hampton is a prep school and a number of former New Hampton basketball players have gone on to play at the Division I college level.


For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at Mike White: or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh


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