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Bruce Gradkowski doesn't have to look far to find his blessings

PITTSBURGH -- The selflessness his father showed when he passed up a football scholarship to take care of his family extended to his four children, two of whom now play in the NFL.

The spirit his mother instilled in Bruce Gradkowski when she told him skeptics could never measure the size of his heart has also helped the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback make a living for almost a decade in the NFL.

That is why on a day when it is especially fitting to count your blessings "Little Bru" is especially thankful for his parents, Bruce and Debbie Gradkowski.

"They sacrificed a lot for us growing up to get to where we are today," said Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native who once broke Dan Marino's state prep record for touchdown passes in a season, and is now in his second season backing up Ben Roethlisberger. "It’s a true blessing."

Thanksgiving dinner won’t be lacking for bodies at the Gradkowskis given the size of the extended family, though the biggest one of all will be missing.

Gino Gradkowski, won’t be able to make it back to Pittsburgh for the holiday since the Ravens offensive lineman is in Baltimore preparing for his team’s next game.

But he is a big reason why Bruce and Debbie Gradkowski have plenty to be thankful for today as well.

All four of their children are doing well, including the sisters who are book-ended by the football-playing brothers.

Brittney Kuhn juggles teaching in the West Allegheny school district with raising three kids. Deanna Sherwood, meanwhile, is expecting her first child and is the head men's wear designer for Abercrombie & Fitch in Columbus, Ohio.

"It’s pretty cool," said Gradkowski, the oldest of the four siblings. "We’re all successful in our own ways, and I think that’s because of our parents, giving us that opportunity, laying a foundation or us and giving the path to go do it."

Indeed Bruce Sr., a longtime production manager at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Debbie, a dental assistant, put all four of their kids through private school.

If money was ever tight the kids never knew about it.

Bruce Jr. said his father would never hear of him getting a job growing up, as he was encouraged to focus on academics and athletics.

"Little Bru" found out early, however, that such an edict did not come with a free pass.

As a third-grader he got selected to play basketball for the fourth-grade team, and it went to his head a little. After his grades slipped and he mouthed off to a teacher, Gradkowski’s parents pulled him off the team for the rest of the season.

The lesson: always stay grounded and humble.

Bruce has never forogotten that, and he and Gino have each lived out the football dream for the father who saw his cut short.

The elder Bruce Gradkowski and his brother each starred in football in high school, and both were offered a scholarship to Indiana State. When their father became ill "Big Bru" told his brother, who was younger by a year, to go to school and that he would stay home and take care of the family.

That, his oldest son, is just one example of how he has always put others ahead of himself.

"If he has a dollar in his pocket it’s going to someone else," Bruce Gradkowski said of his father.

That is what makes the ninth-year NFL veteran especially appreciative of days like these, when he can spend time with his family, which includes his wide, Miranda, and daughter, Liliana.

"We have a lot to be thankful for, and that’s the one thing you have to remember during Thanksgiving," Gradkowski said. "You might be stressed out in your daily activity and job, but overall it is about being thankful for what we are blessed with and to be close to family, and take advantage of that."