By Allen Wilson (http://www.buffalonews.com)
It is early Thursday morning. Bobby Greco Jr.’s team of assistants spends nearly two hours getting him ready. It’s not an easy process.
The pain in his legs is almost unbearable. A gall bladder stone adds to his misery.
But Greco has a job to do, and he’s going to do it. After he’s dressed and fed, he is helped into his wheelchair and taken to an automobile that will take him to Jim Kelly’s football camp.
Once inside the Buffalo Bills’ fieldhouse, now known as The Bills Healthy Zone, Greco gets busy providing instruction, offering encouragement and guidance.
It’s what a coach does.
“I don’t see myself as a guy in a wheelchair,” Greco said. “I see myself as a coach.”
Greco has been coaching since middle school. He’s currently a student assistant offensive line coach at St. John Fisher College, where he majors in sports management.
This year was his first appearance at Kelly’s annual camp. The only thing that distinguished Greco from the other instructors was his wheelchair. But it’s a tool, not a crutch. It doesn’t stop him from getting where he wants to be or doing what he wants to do.
You see, Greco doesn’t believe in setting limitations. His has been a life of taking on obstacles and tearing them down.
The 22-year-old Geneva native was born with Arthrogryposis, a rare congenital condition that affects the proper formation of ligaments and muscles. He had 21 surgeries over the first 14 years of his life.
The doctors told Greco’s parents their son would never talk or show emotion. A normal quality of life was deemed impossible. Doctors recommended putting him in an institution.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to hear someone say your child should be put in a home,” said Greco’s father, Bobby Sr. “We weren’t sure what the future held for him.”
But Bobby Jr. had a surprise for everyone. By the time he was 3, he could work on a computer with a head pointer. He was becoming more expressive and showing signs of intelligence few thought was possible.
“Now instead of dealing with a handicapped child,” Greco Sr. said, “we’re dealing with a gifted child.”
Children are urged to follow their dreams. Greco Jr. found his at age 5, when he met his idol, Kelly, at the quarterback’s Stargaze charity softball game.
“Meeting Jim and all my other favorite players, it made me know that somehow I had to be on the field and coaching was the way to go,” said Greco Jr., a devoted Bills fan. “From then on, that’s all I wanted to do.”
He got his start when he was allowed to help out with Geneva’s modified team. By the time he reached the ninth grade, he was working with the junior varsity squad and eventually joined the varsity as an assistant coach.
Working with the offensive line, Greco was part of a Geneva High School team that went undefeated and won the New York State Class B championship in 2006.
“It was a great feeling being a part of that team,” said Greco, a member of the National Honor Society at Geneva High.
But Greco didn’t want high school to be the last stop on his coaching journey. He got an interview with St. John Fisher coach Paul Vosburgh, who was impressed by Greco’s football acumen.
“He’s got a great passion for the game,” said Vosburgh, who was aware of Greco from recruiting trips to Geneva. “He likes being around the players and around the coaches. He loves everything about the game. He brings an enthusiasm and drive every day he comes to the practice field. We’re glad to have him.”
Once Kelly found out Greco was coaching at St. John Fisher, he invited Greco to be a camp instructor. Kelly was blown away watching Greco in action.
“I haven’t been around him a lot because with so many kids I’m all over the place,” Kelly said. “But when I watch and listen to him, I’m like ‘Wow, he really does know what he’s talking about.’ We didn’t want to put him out here just because he is handicapped. We wanted to put him in a position for the kids to listen to him and see how they respond to him. The players are blessed to have the ability they have, but when he speaks they listen, which is pretty cool. He voices his opinion. He tells you like it is.”
Greco worked mostly with the quarterbacks last week, but other players were drawn to his infectious personality.
“I had some players with me that wasn’t in our group who said they were going to request him next year,” said Christian Coniglio, 18, a senior quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “That’s how much we like him.”
Since he can’t practice what he teaches, Greco uses other techniques to get his message across. He uses analogies and imaginary situations as part of his verbal instruction.
Whatever methods he uses, they have had a positive effect.
“In my five years of coming here, I think he’s the best coach I’ve had, honestly,” Coniglio said. “He’s a great coach and a great guy to be around.”
“It means a lot to know you’re doing something to make them better players and people,” Greco said. “As a coach, there’s no better feeling.”
Away from the field, Greco is under the watchful eyes of close friends and family who take care of his every need. To hear them tell it, it’s a labor of love.
“We’ve done so much growing up together it’s hard not to consider him a blood relative,” said Kelvin Cruz, a lifelong friend and constant companion when he’s not playing football at Hobart. “I’d put him above just about anybody as far as people I would do anything for. He knows I’m there for him and I always will be.”
It’s not easy for Greco to coach. He lives in constant pain. Just getting up every morning is a test of his mental toughness.
“Sometimes I don’t know how he does it,” Cruz said. “But he has always been so dedicated and driven. He never lets anything deter him. If someone tells him not to do something because it’s too tough, he just wants to do it even more. He’s an amazing guy.”
And an inspiration, and a genuine life lesson to players and coaches.
“I look at him out here coaching us every day, he hasn’t let his handicap hold him back, so why should we let anything stop us from doing what we want to do?” Coniglio said. “He makes you want to push yourself harder because he is pushing himself to be out here.”
Vosburgh said: “To see how Bobby fights through this, it’s remarkable. There are times he can’t make practice because he has some ailments and some physical disabilities that keep him from school. But the guys know he always comes back and gives it everything he’s got. He has been an inspiration to all of us and makes us realize how fortunate we are to be healthy.”
Greco’s health might not be the best, but his outlook on life is. He wants to become a full-time college coach, but his dream is to make it to the NFL.
Anybody out there want to doubt him? Once you meet Bobby Greco Jr., you begin to believe no task is too great.
“He said he wanted to coach high school and he did it,” Greco Sr. said. “I was worried that a college wouldn’t take him and he did it. The NFL is next and he’s going to do it. He’s beaten every odd imaginable. To see what he’s accomplished, it’s a great feeling.”
I am the oldest of 7 children and I remember how difficult it was while growing up for me and my family. It was so difficult that I started working at the age of 13 just so I could help my mother as well as provide for my own needs. I remember when I did not have sneakers for school and my mother bought two pairs of old sneakers from a neighbor for $25 dollars. It did not help that I was in the 6th grade and everybody in the neighborhood knew about it, and teased me relentlessly. Things did not get better as I got older. At the age of 22, I was homeless with a job, working at Engine 46 Steakhouse. There were times when I had to wash myself up in a Laundromat bathroom after washing my clothes so I could be clean for work. Other times, I resulted to using different playground bathrooms to wash up and change. I was paranoid that someone would come in and laugh at me, or a cop would come in and throw the book at me for washing up in a public establishment. I had some tough times while growing up, but these few things helped me to continue to press forward in life.
The first positive thing I did was to become a student at C.C.P. A few years ago, I unexpectedly lost my job due to my employer filing for Chapter 11. Following this loss, I decided to go to Philadelphia Careerlink. It was there that I saw a flyer discussing how a person could receive a grant for the first semester at C.C.P. The program was called “Opportunity Now” and Michael Harry was in charge of the program. I did not have a G.E.D, so I studied hard the next two weeks, took the G.E.D test and passed! I brought all the required paperwork to Mr. Harry, he shook my hand and said, “Welcome to C.C.P.” Words could not explain the joy I felt inside. On January 18, 2010, I started college at C.C.P. It was also the same week I began working at Le Bec Fin, which was the second thing that kept me pressing forward.
Working at Le Bec Fin has been an amazing experience. It is a beautiful thing working alongside Chef Perrier, his Chef De Cuisine and co-owner Nicolas Elmi, and the entire staff at Le Bec Fin. All the gifts God has bestowed upon me, I have used to better myself and everyone I come in contact with. I have a gift to serve others. Every time I walk into our kitchen, whenever I get the chance to go over our exceptional menu, every time our guests leave with a memorable fine dining experience, I get this amazing feeling inside of me. I have an insatiable hunger to learn all I can in the restaurant industry and working at Le Bec Fin is an excellent tool for sharpening my skills and knowledge.
Finally, it is not enough to learn all that I can professionally in the hospitality industry as well as academically in college, but to excel in these fields. To excel means to do or be better than. It also means to surpass others or to be superior in some respect or area. For me, this means I plan to surpass and be better than past generations of poverty and settling for less. Academically I am strong. I will proudly admit that I have made semester honors spring 2010, fall 2010, and I know I will make semester honors for spring 2011 because I am making A’s in all 4 of my classes. I currently maintain a G.P.A of 3.54. Professionally I am learning so much at Le Bec Fin. Each day I work is an exciting and privileged adventure. I am only going to become that much more passionate about honing my craft.
It is my pleasure to share with you a little bit of who I am, what I have been through, and most importantly who I am today as a result of all I have been through. I live my life beautifully and passionately. Each day is a gift from God. I will continue to take advantage of all that life has to offer. I invite you all to come join me on this wonderfully exciting journey called “Living Life Beautifully.”