Junior quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and senior receiver Lance Moore are couch potatoes. Most nights they sit in the living room of the house they share with three other teammates and watch movies, game tapes or ESPN Classic. They do, however, get in some practice. ?I have a couple of footballs,? says Gradkowski, ?and we?re always throwing them back and forth.?
No kidding. Last season Gradkowski and Moore connected 103 times, more than any other I-A tandem. Included in that total was a nine-yard fade with 43 seconds left that helped the Rockets knock off ninth-ranked Pittsburgh, 35?31, on Sept. 20. That game was the coming-out party for Gradkowski, who in his fourth start set school records for passing yards (461), completions (49) and attempts (62). For the year he hit on 71.2% of his passes (second only to N.C. State?s Philip Rivers), amassing 3,210 yards and 29 TDs with just seven interceptions.
Despite throwing for more yards (2,978) in his senior season than any other quarterback in the history of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League--including Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino--the Pittsburgh native was passed over by most Division I-A schools. Luckily, Toledo offensive coordinator Rob Spence, who had seen some tape of Gradkowski, showed up at one of his basketball games and was impressed with his athleticism. Spence felt that Gradkowski would be an ideal fit for the Rockets? spread offense, in which the quarterback frequently changes plays at the line. ?But,? says the coordinator, ?I?d be nuts to say I expected he?d throw for more than 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.?
The numbers could be even better this year. Toledo, which has a Mid-American Conference?best 37?12 record since 2000, has eight starters back from the nation?s 11th-ranked offense, including Moore (1,194 receiving yards in ?03), fellow wideout Steve Odom (838) and running back Trinity Dawson (999 rushing yards). Like Ben Roethlisberger at Miami ( Ohio), Gradkowski could vault to national prominence if he can lead his team into the Top 10. ?I don?t know if this is going to be his Roethlisberger year,? says Toledo coach Tom Amstutz, ?but as a team I think we have the potential to do something like that.? --S.M.