Aurora's favorite 'water boy' becomes household name on the field instead of away from it

FRANK ACETO Reporter
Tony Gramm carries the ball against Chardon during the Division III, Region 9 title game last year. The 2020 Aurora graduate plans to continue his academic and football careers at Otterbein University in Westerville.

Tony Gramm made his first significant impact during his junior year.

Sort of.

“He’s the best water boy we’ve ever had,” longtime Aurora head football coach Bob Mihalik said.

Gramm quickly realized he did his best work on the gridiron rather than away from it.

He hasn’t looked back since.

The 2020 Aurora graduate recently decided to continue his academic and football careers at Otterbein University. Gramm plans to major in mathematics at the private university, which is located in Westerville.

“Otterbein has a very cool atmosphere and it even lets classmates and fans on the sidelines to cheer you on while you’re playing,” Gramm said. “Aside from football, I was really impressed with all of the internship opportunities they had. On top of all of this, Ohio State is only 15 minutes away.”

Gramm, who said some of his close friends are attending Ohio State, fell in love with the 140-acre campus during his overnight stay. As it turned out, this quality time with his soon-to-be new friends sealed the deal for the standout running back.

“I had a super good time,” Gramm said. “I met the coaching staff during my first visit to the campus. It felt very organized.”

The fact that Gramm will be playing football on the collegiate level could be considered somewhat miraculous.

Gramm, who also had a two-year baseball career for the Greenmen, was a member of Aurora’s freshman football team. He decided to stay away from the gridiron the following year to focus on baseball and then returned to the football team during his junior year.

Despite his return, Gramm made a minimal impact. Injuries played a major role in his lack of action. Shifting away from his natural position didn’t help matters either.

“He played running back as a freshman,” Mihalik said. “When he came back during his junior year, he wanted to be a receiver. He thought being a receiver gave him a better chance to be on the field. I told him, ‘We need you to be a running back.’”

Since Gramm was inactive due to his health issues, Gramm did just about everything to win his coaches’ and teammates’ affections despite his lack of playing time.

That included performing a not-so-glamorous task.

“He did everything he could to help the players during practice,” Mihalik said. “He would set up drills and help the coaches. He was a total team player.”

Although his former pupil became quite adept in his role as team manager, Mihalik knew Gramm’s calling didn’t involve serving drinks to his comrades.

Mihalik got a glimpse of Gramm’s potential during the 2018 season finale.

“We were winning pretty handily against (Columbus) Mifflin in the second half,” Mihalik said. “We put Tony in and he ran wild. They couldn’t tackle him. That really set the tone for his senior year.”

The soon-to-be former water boy didn’t take his breakout performance for granted. Once the season ended, Gramm opted for perspiration rather than hydration.

“I felt I wasn’t the best player I could be,” Gramm said. “I also felt like I let my teammates down my sophomore year when I quit. These two things felt like a weight on my shoulders.

“I needed to do something to make it up to them and show them I can be better. That’s when I dedicated myself entirely to the weight room, along with the rest of my teammates. It was the hardest I have worked in my life.”

Taking on this heavy workload turned out to be an absolute breeze for the determined teenager. That’s because he was inspired by his teammates, who had the same relentless attitude.

Why?

Gramm and Co. were on the wrong side of history in 2018. Aurora missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

“The 2018 year was obviously a very disappointing year,” Gramm said. “It felt like we let down the city. When the streak was broken, we were a part of that.”

One year later, Gramm and his pals were part of something else. This time, it was something very special.

Thanks to their relentless work in the offseason, the Greenmen reached the Division III semifinals for the first time in seven years. Aurora finished 13-1 and won the Suburban League American Conference championship.

Gramm certainly did his part. Looking like a seasoned veteran rather than a modest bit player, Gramm became a wrecking ball in Aurora’s backfield. He led the team in rushing yards (836) and rushing touchdowns (nine) on 183 attempts.

Believe it or not, Mihalik wasn’t the least bit surprised with his former water boy’s production. Since Mihalik became the Greenmen’s head coach 20 years ago, one thing has always been certain on West Pioneer Trail: You leave the program much better than when you entered it.

“When you come from a program that is senior-driven like we are, it’s hard to get on the field when you’re a sophomore,” Mihalik said. “We want our seniors to be our best players and our leaders. Tony never complained. He always did what was best for the team.”

Gramm’s new team has a long way to go if it wants to match the accomplishments of his former squad.

Otterbein, a Division III program that makes its home in the Ohio Athletic Conference, finished 2-8 in 2019. The Cardinals, led by ninth-year head coach Tim Doup, showed a little bit of life down the stretch. They won both of their games during the final four weeks of the season and lost their season finale by just a single point.

“Coach Doup really cares for his players,” Gramm said. “The rest of the coaching staff also seems like they want to put their players in the best position to be the best men they can be. I respect these qualities very much.”

Gramm hopes to bulk up considerably when he enrolls at Otterbein. Despite a playing weight of 170 pounds, Gramm was able to punish unfortunate opposing defenders during his senior year.

It’s a good bet he won’t be able to duplicate his impressive feats against his future OAC rivals unless he puts on a few more pounds.

It’s a good bet that he may not get on the field right away either.

If that’s the case, Gramm will be more than happy to return to his former role as an expert on an inorganic, tasteless and odorless chemical substance.

“When I was injured, I was indeed the best water boy,” Gramm said. “I would always walk around and ask each coach. I would run inside, fill the bottles and run back outside. I had to help the team in some way. If being the water boy was one of the only ways, then so be it.”

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.