Greg Gardill – Blue Collar Guy
Pirate Time Machine No. 3
Not much has changed, sort of, since Greg Gardill
last strapped on the Pirate gear that historic day in Atlanta, when East
Carolina capped a dream of a season with the win over North Carolina State.
When he comes home from his job, he’s wearing the
grime of the turf, the sweat of another physical day in the trenches. And he is exhausted, yet exhilarated for again successfully prevailing
over a bunch of heavier, bigger opponents across the line from him.
Today, however, Gardill is a cattleman and his foes
aren’t really foes, they are his 300 head of corn-fed, pure Somerset
County, Pa., cattle, which he raises to supply beef to businesses and
consumers in Western Pennsylvania.
Gardill with some of his co-workers.
"Blue Collar," they call it, and Gardill, for one,
is damn proud of it. From his prep playing days in Johnstown, Pa, to his
college days in Greenville and back to his life at home in Johnstown,
Gardill has been consistently low key, workman-like, and above all,
successful. Moreover, he has been happy all the way.
“I love it,” he said of his livelihood. “Every day
I get up, it's something new. One day I’m a plumber fixing the water
line, the next day I’m a mechanic repairing the harvester. Then I’m a
veterinarian. You just never know what each day is going to bring... and
I like that.
“Yesterday, a couple of the bulls got into a shed
and were fighting, so I was a carpenter yesterday and today... today I
was a delivery guy.”
The 15 to 20 hour days feel good to the former
defensive end/tackle and he gets through each day much like he did as a
player…he works hard.
“I guess I am really proud of being blue collar,”
he said. “I take a certain pride in doing things myself.”
That attitude, along with a love for what he does,
defined Gardill from a young age, growing up in one of the steel towns
that line the route between the State Capital in Harrisburg to
Pittsburgh in Western, Pennsylvania.
It was always football, family, and farming that
most interested Gardill.
Gardill prepped at two different schools, first
going to Bishop McCort – where he is an assistant coach today – and
finishing high school at Johnstown High. At Johnstown, his coach, Jerry
Davitch, would end up being more than just a coach, but also a cherished
adviser — and the man who eventually helped Gardill find his way to ECU.
With Prop 48 status hanging on the results of a
grade in English his senior year, many of the schools that were
recruiting him were backing off. Though the 6’2”, 235 pound offensive
guard and defensive lineman was being recruited by the likes of Notre
Dame, Penn State, West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh, it was East
Carolina that stuck with him to the bitter end – when he did get his “B”
in English to fully qualify. And it was his coach, Davitch, who put
things into perspective for Gardill, who lived by his mentor's mantra.
“My high school coach kept telling me, ‘You can go
to a place where you could get red-shirted and then hang around for a
couple of years before eventually playing in 22 football games. Or you
can go to a place where you can play 44 games.’ That really made me
think. I realized that there are only 44 games, 44 opportunities left to
He chose East Carolina and played in 44 of 45
games, finishing with four letters and spending three seasons as a
starter, where he remained injury-free.
Gardill during his game days as an ECU
“I look back and think of Coach 'D' telling me 44
games not 22. I was playing as a freshman at ECU. It was neat how it all
came together. I like to think I enjoyed every possible moment,” he
reflected. “I was very much a practice player, too. I did absorb it all
and I’m glad when I look back on it…I really enjoyed it.”
What made his career even sweeter were the moments
where his past intersected with his future.
For instance, as a freshman at ECU, he was in a
class that included two players from Maryland, who were both on the
Maryland roster for the “Big 33” game that pitted prepsters from
Maryland against the top 33 from Pennsylvania. Gardill was left off the
Pennsylvania roster, though he was among the nominees and was an
“I heard it a lot from those two about the Big 33,”
he said. “But in the end, they didn’t make it through the program.”
There were other moments, too. Throughout his
career, he would be part of ECU teams that knocked off Syracuse,
Pittsburgh, and West Virginia — all teams that backed off on Gardill.
“(ECU’s) schedule really impressed me. Man, they
would play anyone,” he said. “During my freshman season, we were 3-8,
and in October alone, we played Florida State, Miami, Syracuse and West
Virginia at a time when they were four of the top five teams in the
nation. When I was looking at schools, I was thinking, ‘ECU plays a
powerhouse schedule’ and I was thinking, ‘I’m going to make those teams
who passed on me pay for it.’”
Had he gone another direction, Gardill acknowledges
that his football career would not have been as dramatic.
“My freshman year we were 3-8 with a heck of a
schedule. Sophomore year was a transition year for coach (Bill) Lewis’
first season. We still had guys who didn’t believe that year. By my
junior year, we had all started believing we could be competitive, and
we were. We had four losses that totaled maybe 14 points. We just needed
that little umphhhh,” he said. “My senior year, the team came together.
Llike Coach Lewis said, ‘If you believe in yourself and in each other,
great things will happen.’ That is really how it was, it didn’t matter
if the other team was driving late in the game to win it or if it was
us, we really believed we would win. That whole ‘I Believe’ thing was
very real to us.”
Gardill said he sensed that becoming a reality with
the team just before the South Carolina game in 1991.
“South Carolina had really owned us,” Gardill said.
“I can remember playing Carolina before that season and they just always
would come out on top. (The 1991 contest) was one game we went out and
just played and everything bounced our way and people made things happen
and we ended up beating them and that is when the ‘I Believe’ motto got
out to everyone.”
And at the end, after the Peach Bowl, Gardill
clearly remembers his thoughts.
“That night, after the game, it was, like, tranquil
and I remember thinking, ‘Thank God, everything happened the way it
should have.’ I still enjoy it, and at the time, I thought ‘this
(feeling) will never be over, I’ll always be able to enjoy it because I
Today, it manifests itself in many ways. His
fishing buddies call him “Peach Bowl” and his two-month old baby girl
bears the initials E.C., for Elizabeth Caroline. His wife, D.A., whom he
met while at ECU, in his words, “bleeds purple and gold,” and is as a
big a Pirate fan as you’ll find.
Greg and D.A. Gardill
The only difference these days is that instead of
roaming the turf at Dowdy-Ficklen, Gardill roams the sod of his 500-acre
farm, working the land with his father Rob, the gentleman farmer.
During the week, Gardill
finishes his day coaching football at Bishop McCort, where he is able
to rekindle, though not recapture, the camaraderie he greatly misses
from his days as a Pirate player. He shares his lessons learned
from his playing days with his players.
“Football… working hard… nothing ever comes easy,” he
said. “I tell this to the kids I’m coaching now. I tell them, ‘If it’s
worth anything, you got to work at it.’
“Having fun, too. If you’re not having fun, if
you’re not getting something out of it, it’s not worth doing. I can’t
see being in a job that is not fun. I can’t see that. I couldn’t survive
that life. You better have fun if you’re working 12 hours a day.”
Today, his 12-hour days are just that, a rare
combination of self-satisfaction, fun, and hard work. For something that
started out as a hobby for his dad, older brother Bobby, and himself,
the cattle business has been good to him and his family.
And, true to form, his proudest moments are when he
takes a chance to reflect on the work he is doing and the family he has.
“I joke with D.A. sometimes,” he said. “I’ll call
up to the house and ask her what she is doing and she’ll say, ‘I’m
feeding the baby,’ and I’ll say, ‘I’m feeding the cows,’ and we’ll laugh
about that being all we're ever doing, feeding the girls. (D.A.) is
doing a great job of being a mother and I’m just there trying to give
her a lot of support. We’ve got our dog, Jake… the baby… yeah, things are
going pretty good.
“I guess I’m just a farmer…I love my farm.”
The Gardill Family Farm