View Full Version : Growing Up Bradford

04-12-2010, 03:03 PM
Growing up Bradford

Sunday, Apr. 11 2010

Norman, Okla. — We are in a different world today, where phenom grooming is a
booming business. It's a world full of personal trainers for knobby-kneed
10-year-olds and select teams for gangly 7-year-olds. It's a world where even
the most notoriously failed sports dad of all time (Marv Marinovich) can be
shamelessly justified as the gloriously misunderstood patron saint of every
overly obsessive sports parent, not a frightening cautionary tale of a
vicarious parental thrill ride gone terribly bad.

Yet for every Marv Marinovich (and the train wreck he produced with his Robo QB
son Todd, who went from high school phenom into a drug-addicted spiral as an
adult), we occasionally stumble upon a refreshing parental experiment that
fairly defies the modern sports parent clichι.

Say hello to Sam Bradford, the anti-Robo QB.

What does it say about us that this is an unconventional story? What does it
say about us that we find this kid so, well, normal, and we just can't believe
our eyes?

If you are seeking some defining moment that can provide a bit of insight into
the quarterback from the University of Oklahoma who could end up as the No.1
overall selection in the NFL draft — yes, that would be the St. Louis Rams'
No.1 pick — allow me to take you back a few years to this entirely
non-obsessive, totally normal (ah, there is that word again) moment in the
childhood of a future Heisman Trophy-winning QB.

It wasn't really cool or hip or particularly macho. In fact it was anything but
that. It was downright wholesome, not the least bit athletic, and right out of
the screenplay of "Glee!" for goodness sakes.

The toothy little kid with the slim athletic build and the insatiable appetite
and curiosity to try anything comes running home one day from elementary school
with breathless news. He has discovered a new world to explore, a new challenge
to conquer. He was 7, maybe 8 years old, the dad recalls, and the little boy
can't wait to corner his pop and get permission to try something new.

"I told him, 'Sure, buddy, I think that would be awesome,'" said Kent Bradford.

Little Sam wanted to join the school orchestra, and he wanted to play the cello.

"How good was he?" Kent shrugs his shoulders and chuckles. "Geez, I dunno. It
was an elementary school orchestra, and he was first-chair, but shoot, they
probably only had two kids playing the cello."

Good or bad is of course not the point. The point is, this was just the start
of it. There was the cello and golf. There was football and there was
basketball. There was hockey and just about anything else he could find a way
to try, and there was no overly obsessive parent trying to redirect him into
choosing one sport over the other and becoming some specialized athletic

Sam Bradford's life would not become a carefully orchestrated, force-fed
extension of his parents. This rare athletic journey never became Kent and
Martha Bradford's vicarious thrill ride. "I can't choose Sam's passion," the
father said.

Kent Bradford is a big man of very few words. He is tall and built like an
accomplished athlete himself (6 feet 4, roughly 250 pounds) with a mop of curly
salt and pepper hair and thick mustache. If you want to know what Sam is going
to look like in 20 or 30 years, just take a quick look at Kent. But the strong
physical resemblance is where it all ends for the former University of Oklahoma
lineman, who didn't spend every waking moment trying to hitch a ride on his
son's coattails and treat Sam as Kent 2.0.

"He had to find that passion on his own," Kent said. "If I try to say, 'OK,
here it is, you're going to be a golfer only,' or 'You're only going to play
shortstop and I'm going to hit a thousand balls to you every day,' in my
opinion, that's not the way it works. Who are you doing it for, your kid or
yourself? In my opinion, it was my job as a parent to provide him with as much
exposure to positive things as I could. Hopefully, he would find something he

And Sam seemed to love everything and did everything quite well, and no one
forced him to choose. There are pictures of him in a little league baseball
uniform. There are stories about him shooting par on one of the most demanding
golf courses in Norman. He could have played college basketball, too, says his
high school coach, because he spent most of his summers not in the high school
football weight room but on an AAU basketball team hooping it up with teammate
Blake Griffin against a few future NBA players you might have heard of named
Kevin Durant and Greg Oden.

"He just had to seek his own things," Kent Bradford said. "My wife and I knew
our job was to make sure we could drive him wherever he needed to go.
Basketball today, football tomorrow, baseball the next day. We wanted him to
figure it all out on his own."


Bob Wilson sits in his spacious office in the athletic wing of Putnam City
North High School, where he is the longtime football coach and athletic
director. He wishes everyone was like the Bradfords.

You know, well, normal.

Dad owns an insurance firm in a modest neighborhood and mom is a school
teacher, and they took their only child and raised him in a nice, quiet
northern suburb of Oklahoma City and somehow figured out how to raise him right
without spoiling him.

"He's an only child with none of the characteristics of an only child," Wilson
said. "Humble and quiet, but a very good leader and smart as can be. Straight-A
student. All-state in basketball. Star quarterback, great golfer, too. And if
you want to know why Sam is so normal, then all I can say is the acorn doesn't
fall far from the tree. I love Kent and Martha. I've seen obsessive parents
before. Those (people) have the kid's whole future worked out for them by the
time the kid's 7. But in the four years Sam was here, never heard a word out of
Kent or Martha. …

"Shoot, the only thing I heard from them was 'what can we do to help the team,'
like did anyone need a ride somewhere or something like that. They were
in-the-background people. They didn't want the spotlight on them, and Sam was
the same way."

All this normalcy, at least in the short-term, may have slowed his development
as a football star. Sam didn't lock himself in the weight room in the offseason
and become one of those one-dimensional athletes obsessed with just one narrow
path. If you look on the wall behind Wilson, you could see a photo of Bradford
as a high school player, and his arms looked like pipe cleaners. He was all of
170 pounds soaking wet and a string bean who looked a lot more like a
basketball player or golfer than a future Heisman Trophy quarterback.

While he was off hitting a golf ball or playing AAU ball with his future NBA
lottery pick buddies, the high school scouting websites failed to make him a
breathless five-star legend before his time.

So how many stars did Bradford have coming out of Putnam City North?

Wilson rolled his eyes and laughed. "Heck, I don't know. One star? Three stars?
Five stars? With all due respect, who are these people and what do they really
know? All I know is that I knew Sam could play at the next level. I knew he
could be a quarterback in the Big 12. But because he was so busy jumping from
one sport to the next, he was always going to be this tall, skinny kid. But I
told the OU folks that as soon as they got him all to themselves, he was going
to be a 230-pounder for sure."

Bradford was lucky no one ever forced him to choose football until he was ready
to devote all his interest in football at his own pace. "These kids who say at
7 years old that they're going to be the next (superstar) and then bury
themselves in one sport so young are just crazy," Wilson said. "We don't allow
that here. If you're an athlete, be an athlete. Play as many sports as you


We pause all this wonderful normalcy for one curmudgeonly refrain.

The parade that is apparently being arranged to smoothly usher him in as the
NFL's No.1 draft pick is not universally accepted as a fait accompli.

Last week, former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer gave a
harsh assessment of Bradford on 101 ESPN radio, saying it would be "a
catastrophic mistake" for the Rams to select him with that No.1 pick next week
and that Bradford is "not even close to being the best player in this draft."

"I think he will be a good pro one day, but I think he has major, major
challenges in front of him," Dilfer said. "I think if you look at the
quarterbacks who have been picked in the top five over the past few years, he's
not worth mentioning. He's not Mark Sanchez. He's not Matthew Stafford. He's
not Matt Ryan. I would say he's not even Joe Flacco. Sam Bradford is a talented
kid, but very, very raw."

Time will tell about all of this. But while Dilfer's judgment is all about
football mechanics, there are other critics who wonder if this normal kid
Bradford has another fatal flaw that could make him a dubious No.1 pick.

Is he too nice, too soft-spoken, perhaps even a bit too shy to be an NFL
starting quarterback? That was the rap on Marc Bulger, wasn't it? So are the
Rams about to replace Bulger with a younger, equally reserved model?

If you saw him on campus — and those on-campus sightings were by design few and
far between — you would see a guy who didn't see attention as an irresistible

"I've taught a lot of football players here and I have to tell you, if you
didn't know who he was, you never would know he was Sam Bradford," said Ron
Anderson, a professor in the OU business school who taught Bradford for two
years. "He didn't act like he was the Heisman Trophy winner, if you know what I
mean. He comes across as extremely shy. Some guys love the attention. Not Sam.
He doesn't like crowds. You'll see him walking around campus when classes are
in session (so people wouldn't mob him). In fact, he would come to my office
now and then late when no one was around and then we would have great

The professor and the quarterback would talk about everything. Football and
classwork (he graduated with a degree in finance in only 3½ years from a
program that typically takes four to five years). They even watched game film
of Anderson's 18-year-old son, who just happens to be a high school
quarterback, too, and Bradford gave him pointers for his son.

"But if you don't know him, it is easy to mistake his shyness for a
disconnect," Anderson said. "In my opinion, he is extremely humble. There will
be no grandiose statements from him. He won't be a T.O. He doesn't want or need
the attention. But as I've spent more time with him, I've come to understand
that there is no disconnect with him. If you spend time with him, you will
quickly see that's not shyness. That's focus."

This is one of those comically cyclical oddities in sports. We must always
replace the last model with something polar opposite. A player's coach is
fired, a disciplinarian is hired. A wild child retires and a mellow cat is
brought in. Old school is out? New skool is in.

So now that the low-key Bulger era has ended, a lot of Rams fans are hoping to
see him replaced by a Drew Brees sort, a fire-and-brimstone guy who is going to
get in the middle of a pregame scrum and go all Ray Lewis on you.

Well, so much for that cycle.

"You don't have to be Mr. Joe Loudest Guy in the Room," said Bob Stoops, the OU
head coach. "That's not ever going to be Sam. He's not going to be on
'Sportscenter' screaming at the top of his lungs. But that doesn't mean he
won't get after you if you're not doing your job. He was well respected in our
locker room, and that wasn't some transformation that just happened in the last
month or so, either."

You would not be the first one to mistake Bradford's outward reserve for
weakness. When he showed up at Oklahoma as a freshman, he was of course
immediately assigned to the scout team, and the skinny kid from Oklahoma City
was not making an immediate impression on most of the offensive coaching staff.

"Our offensive coaches were pretty skeptical of him," Stoops said. "They were
wondering about his demeanor. But I work with the defense a lot and since he
was on the scout team, and I didn't know anything about his demeanor. All I
kept watching were these throws. He was just firing these balls all over the
place, completing some really impressive, tough, accurate throws against our
No.1 defense every single day. I mean, I was really impressed."

So one day Stoops stopped the practice tapes, walked across the hallway to the
offensive side of the football offices and popped his head into an offensive

"I said something about how good Sam was looking against our starting defense,"
Stoops said. "They all looked at me and said, 'Really?'"

"I told them, 'Yeah, really,' and they needed to watch some of our defensive

Well, the rest wasn't exactly history, but it was something like that.

As the Sooners began preparing for another bowl game, Bradford got more and
more quality reps and the offensive coaches began to notice the same things
that had impressed Stoops.

Two Big 12 championships, one Heisman Trophy and one trip to the BCS title game
later, no one seemed to be caught up in Bradford's low-key ways.

"Well, the more I spent time around him, the more I figured out that this guy
was just a heck of a competitor," Stoops said. "Remember, he signed with us
when we already had a highly recruited guy here (Rhett Bomar), and that didn't
faze him a bit. He reminds me a lot of Chuck Long (former Iowa All-American).
You don't have to be the loudest guy in the room to be a leader. That was
Chuck, and that is Sam."

Stoops says it would be wise to stop thinking of what Bradford isn't and to
appreciate what he is. Consider him in the same mode of two cool customers by
the names of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Stoops tells you a story that is vintage Manning. After last month's impressive
pro day workout in Norman, some people close to Bradford were chirping in his
ear that he should blow off all the individual workouts for the NFL teams
interested in him.

Stoops just shook his head.

"Sam, what's the big deal? Are you going to do anything different in those
workouts that you haven't already done?"

"Nope," Bradford said.

"So what are you worried about?"

"Nothing, coach. I was going to all of the workouts anyway."

And with a subtle grin, Bradford looked at Stoops again.

"And I'm going to nail them, too."

Now Stoops was grinning, too.

"Now that is typical of Sam," Stoops said. "It wasn't cocky at all. It was just
matter of fact. 'This is what I do. Let's go do it.' That's how he always is."

04-15-2010, 02:50 PM
sam bradford is nowhere near as great as josh heupl was. 10 years ago, the sooners were smokin red hot, and havent been as great since then.

04-20-2010, 08:41 PM
Must suck to be ultra gifted and talented in Athletics! to win The Heisman and get drafted in the top of The 1st round of The NFL draft,ooh and also has his own street-Sam Bradford Drive! MUST SUCK!

04-21-2010, 05:02 AM
sam bradford is nowhere near as great as josh heupl was. 10 years ago, the sooners were smokin red hot, and havent been as great since then.

You are correct in the fact that the "Sooners" were red hot, but it was the "Team" that was red hot, not the "quarterback". I'm a big Josh Heupel fan, but Bradford has superior skills in every category, and I would bet that Josh would be the first to agree.

Mr. T in OKC
05-06-2010, 12:10 PM
You are correct in the fact that the "Sooners" were red hot, but it was the "Team" that was red hot, not the "quarterback". I'm a big Josh Heupel fan, but Bradford has superior skills in every category, and I would bet that Josh would be the first to agree.

That's why Bradford was the #1 overall pick and Heupel was a 7th round pick and cut during the preseason.

sam greenroyd
05-06-2010, 12:20 PM
That's why Bradford was the #1 overall pick and Heupel was a 7th round pick and cut during the preseason.

Bradford had the skills and Heupel was very smart on the field of play, he knew defence schemes

05-09-2010, 11:17 PM
I saw a billboard on LBJ in Dallas this week that with Sam's picture that says " I may have been picked first in the draft but I am still second" with a link to a website I Am Second (