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Musick: Family bond unites Garoppolos

FILE - This Nov. 2, 2013 file photo shows Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA football game against Tennessee Tech at O'Brien Field in Charleston, Ill. Garoppolo and fellow Walter Payton Award finalist Terrance West of Towson have been selected to The Associated Press FCS All-America team, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/ Stephen Haas, File) (Stephen Hass)

HUNTLEY – If you traveled past the tranquil neighborhood streets of Sun City last spring, you could have witnessed quite a sight.

Four brothers, ranging in age from 18 to 26, played football in front of their grandparents’ house in the retirement community. They were joined by their 5-year-old cousin, Kyle, an aspiring garbage man and the game’s No. 1 star.

“We should have taken videos,” Jane Garoppolo, the boys’ grandmother, said with a laugh. “It was really funny.”

More smiles and laughter are in store for the Garoppolo family.

Do you recognize the last name? If not, you will soon.

After a stellar college career at Eastern Illinois, Jimmy Garoppolo has emerged as one of the most coveted quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft class. Garoppolo drew dozens of NFL scouts to his recent pro day in Evanston, where San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien also traveled thousands of miles to watch him zip passes across the field.

But you don’t need a scout’s clipboard to tell Anthony and Jane Garoppolo that their grandson has a special gift. The Garoppolos, who moved to Huntley in 2009, beam with pride when they discuss any of their seven grandchildren.

Here, meet them all.

The four brothers go like this: Tony, Mike, Jimmy and Billy.

Tony (age 26) is an architect, Mike (25) is a teacher, Jimmy (22) is a football player and Billy (18) is a high school senior at Rolling Meadows.

A big age gap follows, and then comes daughter Kathy’s family, which includes Kyle (5) and his twin siblings, 4-month-old brother Kaden and sister Katelyn. Kyle is the proud leader of his family’s recycling efforts, while babies Kaden and Katelyn have platinum blonde hair and big blue eyes.

“We’re really close, and we really care about one another,” said Jane Garoppolo, a first-generation American whose parents grew up in Italy. “It’s a small family.”

It’s a small family with big dreams.

Anthony Garoppolo is so impressed by his grandson’s poise during interviews that he jokingly wonders whether someone is holding up cards in the background, filled with all of the right things to say. And although Jimmy Garoppolo’s record-breaking statistics at Eastern Illinois were incredible, other moments stand out more to Anthony from his frequent trips to Charleston to watch his grandson play.

Never did Jimmy turn down a wide-eyed kid asking for an autograph, Anthony said. Never did Jimmy turn down a devoted fan asking to take a picture.

“I can remember a time when he won a game at Eastern, and he was going back to his house,” Anthony Garoppolo said. “We pull into the driveway, Jimmy gets out of the car, and all of the neighbors start applauding him. Then they came over one at a time to take a picture with him.”

Fast fame comes with risks. It has the capacity to change people.

But even the world’s biggest cynic would have to appreciate Jimmy Garoppolo’s hard-earned success. And when the NFL’s bright spotlight arrives, his tight-knit family will provide the foundation for him to weather any storms, big or small.

After his pro day workout, Jimmy Garoppolo flashed a big smile as he discussed his close relationship with his grandparents. He has spent most of the winter working out in southern California, which made this week’s brief return home extra special.

“My Nana – we call her Nana, actually, it’s Italian –was texting me right before this wishing me luck,” Jimmy Garoppolo said. “It’s my mom’s birthday coming up, so we’re going to get together as a family. It’s a rare thing that we get everyone together, so when we get the opportunity, it’s awesome.”

Even when Jimmy is half a country away, his grandparents cheer him on from home. Jane Garoppolo ordered the NFL Network this winter so she could watch Jimmy take part in the East-West Shrine Game as well as the Senior Bowl.

“I called Comcast and I said, ‘This has to be put on by tomorrow, my grandson’s going to be in a football game,’ ” Jane Garoppolo said. “And the girl on the line says, ‘Is his name Jimmy?’

“And I said, ‘Yes!’ ” she said with a laugh.

The NFL draft is coming soon, and with it a family decision. Will the Garappolos gather in New York City, the site of the draft, or will they watch at home?

“I just asked my son that question,” Anthony Garappolo said.

“It’s up to Jimmy,” Jane Garappolo said. “Wherever Jimmy goes, we’re going. Any place it is, we’ll be there.”

And no matter what comes next, Jimmy Garoppolo will have his family’s full support.

Who knows?

One of these days, maybe you’ll see him tossing passes in Sun City again.

“I’m so happy for him,” Jane Garoppolo said. “That goes for any grandchild in my family. To see our grandchild reach his dream, what more could a grandparent ask for?”

•Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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