In most cases, the player with the best statistics has the best story to tell.
Mike Bradford does not have the statistics, but his journey as a member of Jacksonville State’s football team is unforgettable.
“Mike has been here as long as I’ve been here,” head coach Bill Clark said. “Just to see him come to work everyday is just a neat story.”
Bradford, a redshirt-senior wide receiver from Atlanta, Ga., came to JSU as a walk-on in the fall of 2009. He will never forget the morning he showed up for his tryout. There was no opportunity to showcase his skills, only his heart. Footballs were not needed, only shoes. There were no drills run, only gassers and a lot of them.
“It took a tough individual to go through it,” Bradford said. “Basically it tested your strength and your speed. We did a bunch of full gassers and half gassers. They were testing to see who did some type of running over the summer and who did offseason running.”
Of the 57 people who tried out, only 10 were selected. They were immediately slapped with redshirts and assigned to scout team duties. Bradford was one of them. That is how he spent the 2009 season.
The 2010 season was a similar story. He spent the season on the scout team again. The only difference was getting to dress for games. He never got to take the field.
After earning a scholarship in 2010, he looked poised to finally break into the rotation in 2011. Those hopes were derailed when “off-field difficulties” forced him to walk away from the team. When the Gamecocks received their Ohio Valley Conference Championship rings that year, he was not there.
“I actually had a couple of difficulties as far as off-field, family issues,” he said. “I just had to take a break from it and deal with my family issues.”
That break extended throughout into the 2012 season. He spent that season as a working college student at Radioshack. Although he was away from the game that he loves, he continued to prepare his body to make a return.
“I made a promise to myself and to God that I would continue to do something I love,” he said. “I love the game of football. That’s just something I’ve always told myself. I’ve never quit on anything so I wanted to finish something in college.”
He made his return to the team in January of 2013. He has been welcomed back with open arms by the new coaching staff. He saw his first action ever against Jacksonville University. He finished with only two catches for 15 yards but he was not disappointed. Considering his journey, it is hard to blame him for his gratitude.
“My journey has been very long,” he said.”But, at the same time, it has strengthened me as a man and helped me realize what I have to do in life to succeed.”
On the day before his 23rd birthday, Bradford did not run out of the field house with his teammates for the game against Murray State. He was already on the field getting ready for the coin toss. Coach Clark named him as one of the team captains that day.
“One of the things I like to do is recognize the seniors who are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Clark said. “Mike is one of those guys who earns that. He encourages other guys. He comes out and works hard everyday and tries to make himself better.”
Added Bradford: “I try to keep my teammates energized at all times. I never want to see anybody down. When you’re down, you’re not going to make plays and we need people to make plays at all times.”
But, two players did go down, not in spirits, but with physical aliments. Receivers Markis Merrill and Dalton Screws suffered season ending injuries. Those injuries could open a door for Bradford to write the ending to his story he wants.
“I’m always ready,” he said. “There’s never been a moment when I’m not ready. I see this as an opportunity for me to step up and make plays.”
Added Clark: “Sometimes when a guy goes down, there’s a chance for another guy to step up. Let’s see what Mike does with it.”