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Pitt linebackers Grigsby, Bradley thrive on spiritual guidance |

Pitt linebackers Grigsby, Bradley thrive on spiritual guidance

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, August 15, 2015 9:00 p.m
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Pitt offensive coordinator Jim Chaney directs players Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, on the South Side.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Pitt linebacker Nicholas Grigsby practices Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, on the South Side.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Pitt linebacker Bam Bradley practices Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, on the South Side.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Pitt linebacker Bam Bradley.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Pitt linebacker Bam Bradley practices Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, on the South Side.

Every day, not long after sunrise, the sounds from two cell phones shatter the morning calm in the dorm room of Pitt linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and Bam Bradley.

Could it be a coach, making sure the young men are out of bed and ready for practice?

A girlfriend with words of encouragement?

Wrong number?

Actually, it’s Mom, checking in via text message from Dayton, Ohio, with a daily scripture reading from the Bible, along with her take on it.

“It keeps them inspired,” Ernestine Grigsby said of her sons. “Say, Bam had a rough day at practice today. Tomorrow, I’ll go through the Bible and find something to uplift his spirits. You never know what scripture does for people.”

One of her favorite interpretations:

“You may not have everything you think you want or even need, but just be thankful for what you do have.”

— Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Ernestine started sending the texts when her son Chris Wright went to the University of Dayton to play basketball and couldn’t be home for nightly Bible study. When word got out, Wright’s coaches and friends approached Ernestine and asked to be added to the list.

“I send it out to 45, 50 people now,” she said, laughing proudly. “Some of them use it for their alarm clock. To me, that’s called ministry.”

Ernestine raised nine children, five sons of her own and four other children she adopted.

“One night, they came over and spent the night and never went back home,” she said of the children she adopted or helped raise.

She often worked two jobs — during the day as the food service manager in Dayton’s Trotwood-Madison School District and for a few hours a night in a nursing home.

Grigsby and Bradley consider the text messages a daily blessing and a good way to start the morning, knowing that a grueling day awaits them on the practice field. Buoyed by the scripture readings, the brothers have fought their way into a starting lineup for the first time since high school, giving Pitt the speed that coach Pat Narduzzi craves at the outside linebacker position.

“She is more excited about us playing together than we are,” said Bradley, a 21-year-old junior who’s two years younger than Grigsby, a fifth-year senior. “This is right up her alley. She’ll probably be up here (several hours) before the (first) game, knocking on our door.

“She’s trying to get a split Pitt jersey with 3 on one side and 4 on the other.”

Grigsby’s uniform number is 3. Bradley’s is 4. But to anyone who knows them, they are Freeze and Bam.

Grigsby, an administration of justice major, got his name as a young child for his insistence on pushing a chair against the refrigerator, opening the freezer and looking for something to eat. Ernestine calls him Freezer, but it’s been shortened to Freeze over the years.

Bradley’s given name is George L. II but he said he didn’t know that until he went to kindergarten.

“I had to come home and ask my mom, ‘Who are these people talking about? They keep calling me this funny name,’ ” he said. “To this day, even my college professors call me Bam.”

When Bradley was a toddler, his aunt called him Bam Bam, after the character in “The Flintstones.”

“She said I was the baddest little kid she’s ever seen,” he said. “I used to terrorize everything. Over the years, one Bam just dropped.”

The brothers’ football journey at Pitt has been difficult, with Grigsby starting only five games in three years and Bradley one.

Grigsby said former defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable was tough on him during his redshirt freshman season in 2012.

“But I learned from it and got better,” he said.

Bradley had scholarship offers from Michigan State, Penn State, Stanford and several other Power 5 schools, but he chose Pitt largely to be with his brother, who arrived a year earlier in 2011.

“After a while, it felt like the right thing to do, the right place to be,” Bradley said.

Bradley wasn’t always with the first team this spring, but he seized the job at the start of camp last week.

“Those are two very improved individuals,” strength coach Dave Andrews said. “Those guys having a relationship with each other has only made the situation better.

“Grigsby, if you want to ask the team about a guy who is all in, would do anything you ask of him for the betterment of the team, he’s a perfect example of that.”

Grigsby, 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, is one of the team’s most gifted athletes, recording three sacks in each of the past two seasons, playing largely a reserve role. Bradley, 6-2, 230, had two sacks last season.

Asked about competing with his brother while they were growing up, Bradley said, “First, it was a competition for food. With five grown boys in the house, sometimes there wasn’t always a lot to eat.”

They said they competed against each other in sports, foot races, even Monopoly. “He beat me (in a race) once, back in the day,” Grigsby said.

Eventually, they learned to feed off each other.

“I know what he’s going to do, what he isn’t going to do,” Bradley said. “It’s been like that since high school. I always knew if he didn’t make the tackle, I was going to be right there, and if I didn’t make it, he was going to be right there.”

Ernestine said she demanded discipline and academic excellence from all of her children. “You better not bring home a C,” she said.

Bradley, an economics major, always has been an exceptional student, earning a 4.2 grade-point average in high school.

Ernestine tells the story of Bradley standing No. 1 in his class until late in the spring of his senior year. That meant giving the valedictory speech at graduation, and he wanted no part of it.

“He purposely got a B-plus on his senior project, so he finished No. 3 and didn’t have to give the speech. I was so mad at him.”

Yet, Ernestine sees Bam growing into a minister like her brother, the Rev. J.D. Grigsby, who also played basketball at Dayton.

“Bam is really spiritual,” she said. “He doesn’t show it because that ain’t cool.”

When he went on a mission to Haiti with several other Pitt athletes, he took along several pairs of his own shoes for the children and befriended one boy with whom he shares text messages.

“The only thing he came back with were the clothes he wore over there,” Ernestine said.

Ernestine said she has told linebackers coach Rob Harley, if he needs her, she is only a phone call away.

“They better be well-mannered and respectful,” she said. “They don’t want to see me coming to Pitt if they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review pitt football reporter. You can contact Jerry at 412-320-7997, or via Twitter .

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