When searching for guidance in his young life, Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski never had to look far as he found it right in his home from his parents Bruce and Debbie Gradkowski.
They were the ones who taught Gradkowski about always believing in himself, sharing their strong work ethic with him, and providing the perfect example by living the same values they instilled in him.
"One thing my mom always taught me was no matter how big or tall you are, how fast or slow, it all depends on how much you want it," said Gradkowski. "She always told me you can get it if you want it."
His father, who coached him all the way through high school, made sure that Gradkowski always gave his all, helping him to reach his potential.
"He made sure to bring out the best in me and never settled for anything other than that," recalled Gradkowski. "Watching my dad provide for our family and go through tough times, but always working hard and doing whatever it took. They set me up on a path with a great education. They took the time and effort to make sure I was in good schools, going to camps and growing as a football player and young kid. They inspired me."
Gradkowski is one of several Steelers who recently shared the story of who his mentor is with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (MPSWPA) in celebration of January being National Mentoring Month.
"Their stories show that mentoring really does have an impact on everyone," said Kristan Allen, director of marketing and communications for the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pa. "We know mentoring works. In fact, a recent report confirms that mentoring is linked to improved academic, social and economic prospects. Additionally, the report found that youth with mentors are more likely to report higher engagement in positive behaviors."
Gradkowski knows how lucky he was to have his parents there as his mentors every day, to guide him along a path that led to the NFL.
"I am super blessed," said Gradkowski. "I thank God every day for my family. I can't be thankful enough for how many people impacted my life to get me where I am today."
His mentors didn't stop with his parents though. He credits former Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate and good friend Jeff Garcia, who began his career in the Canadian League before finally getting his shot in the NFL, with providing leadership and a positive outlook.
"He kept persevering, never took no for an answer," said Gradkowski. "He always worked hard, is a gritty competitor. I learned a lot from him. We are similar type players, not the biggest guys but have the fight and will to win inside of us. He really helped me grow as a person and knowing anything is possible if you work for it.
"Mentoring never stops. You continue to grow and look forward to other people helping you along your path. I am thankful for all the people I have been able to be in contact with through this journey."