Unsung Heroes: Windsor’s Austin Gradek

Windsor senior student-coach Austin Gradek (Press Democrat photo).

Editor’s note: The Press Democrat will spotlight a player from each Empire football team in the North Coast Section playoffs. These players aren’t stars, but their contributions are crucial to their teams’ success. Each was nominated by his coach:

WINDSOR
Austin Gradek
Senior student coach

Notable: Expected to be a starter this year as a senior, Gradek suffered a concussion in summer practice. Having had a concussion last winter, doctors would not clear him to play this year. Still, he goes to every practice, helps set up for drills, cleans up after practice and helps with the defensive schemes during games. He’s a do-everything student-coach, according to head coach Dustin Davis. Gradek, who played on the special teams unit for the varsity as a junior, gets excellent grades and will enter the Marines following graduation. Coach Davis thinks so highly of him, he let him call defensive signals in the last quarter of the the game against Sonoma Valley.

A CONVERSATION WITH GRADEK

PD: What were your thoughts when you found out you couldn’t play football this year?
Gradek: I was pretty bummed out. It was my senior year, and I was pretty mad for a while.

PD: What was the reaction of your teammates after the injury?
Gradek: They were really supportive. They all gathered around me and they went out and they dedicated the first game to me and stuff like that. At the first team dinner it was pretty emotional.

PD: What made you want to stay with the team and help out?
Gradek: Well, pretty much they have been my family since freshman year, so I kind of owed it to them and they are all my friends so I stuck it out for them, as much support as I could give to the team and also I just love football.

PD: How do you feel this season went for the Windsor Jaguars?
Gradek: I feel like we went out and beat Montgomery and we beat Healdsburg and we beat Carillo and we beat the teams we had in our mind at first and I feel like the last three losses were kind of flukes for our team; they weren’t really up to our capacity. I think we had a good season, we came together from the beginning and I think that we are going to go far in the playoffs. I do still think that we should have gone 10-0.

PD: What do you know about this Clayton Valley team and what are your plans to beat them?
Gradek: I know that they are a big team, they are physical. It sounds like they like playing rough football, they are a pretty run-heavy team. I have been talking a lot with Dustin because he is our defensive coordinator and Head Coach and I have helped him out and given him ideas about how to stop the run up the middle and how to shut down the passing game they have.

PD: What help do you think that you were able to bring to the team this year from the sideline?
Gradek: Support definitely! When the emotions got down I felt like I was there, I joked around and lightened them up. Also I have been on the sideline with the coaches to help them call plays and stuff like that.

PD: How has being an emotional leader on the practice field been, versus being a physical leader on the playing field?
Gradek: It’s a lot different, it’s definitely hard at times. Seeing them out there hitting people really makes me want to go do it, but I can’t. We need emotional leaders too. I kind of got the coaching experience, too.

PD: Do you think coaching might be in your future?
Gradek: Definitely, I already talked to Dustin and he says that he will have a spot for me if I ever want to come back.

PD: What is the biggest thing that you will take away from this season?
Gradek: Just the brotherhood and family that we have on the team, I feel really close to everybody out there. I have also learned a lot of life lessons, too.

PD: What has playing football taught you about life?
Gradek: That you have to face adversity and overcome it and trust the people around you, that they will be able to help you out.

— Jonathan Pierce, for The Press Democrat