This feature was originally published Apr. 10 at Cheesehead TV before the NFL Draft. Happy Father's Day.
Carl Bradford experienced a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore at Arizona State in 2012. With 80 tackles, 21.5 for a loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, the world was his oyster.
He could have declared for the NFL Draft after that season, but Bradford didn't give it much thought.
"No, not at all," said Bradford back during the NFL Combine. "I was focused on graduating. I was focused on earning my degree first."
Everything was falling into place for Bradford heading into his 2013 junior season, one in which he could build upon that successful sophomore campaign.
And then in March of 2013, Bradford's father had a heart attack and died in his son's arms. For the ASU linebacker, it was a memory that didn't easily go away.
Thoughts of his father weighed heavily on Bradford as the 2013 season opened, and the Sun Devils got off to a slow start. Arizona State would suffer two losses in the season's first five games.
"Honestly, it was pretty hard at the beginning of the season," said Bradford. "It kind of did affect my play a little bit. But then I began to find Christ again and the Lord and kind of come to a peace in that in a sense and think happy thoughts about him. And that kind of rejuvenated me and started to get me back in this league. He played a key part in it, a real big part."
Following a heart-breaking, three-point, neutral-site loss to Notre Dame in early October, Bradford and the rest of his team rebounded to go on a seven-game win streak to close out the regular season and win the Pac-12 South title.
Despite experiencing far more double teams than he did as a sophomore, Bradford still managed to make 61 tackles, 19 for a loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles by season's end.
Of utmost importance to Bradford, he also graduated. And with that goal accomplished, he felt as if he could declare for the NFL even though he had a year of eligibility remaining.
Bradford received a third-round grade from the NFL's advisory committee and is now charting his course to professional football by continuing his training, making sure he's healthy and prepared for what lies ahead.
One obstacle facing Bradford, however, is that he doesn't know which position he'll play in the pros. To his credit, he's versatile. During his career at Arizona State, he's lined up at defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker.
"I have experience on the outside, and I can put my hand in the dirt or standing up, so I think that helps a lot," said Bradford.
More often than not, Bradford set up on the line of scrimmage on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle during his time at ASU. But in certain packages, primarily on third downs, he'd shift to inside linebacker.
Some analysts feels as if he's better suited as an inside linebacker at 6' 1" and 250 lbs. Others feel he's better coming off the edge.
If drafted into a 3-4 defensive front like the Green Bay Packers play, Bradford doesn't know where he'll play.
"No idea," said Bradford, "but I had a couple (meetings with) teams with inside and outside, so I can play either or."
For a team like the Packers that are stressing versatility heading into 2014, maybe having a player like Bradford fits in exactly with what they're trying to do.
Julius Peppers is traditionally a defensive end but will be practicing with the outside linebackers. Micah Hyde is being considered at both cornerback and safety. Mike Neal can rush from both the interior and off the edge. B.J. Raji is expected to move to nose tackle but has experience playing end.
Whatever position he plays, whenever he's selected, whoever he's drafted by, Bradford will always remember the lessons passed along to him by his father and take them with him.
"Keep working hard and always be a giver," said Bradford. "Give somebody your last five cents if you have it. Always make another person smile and have a good day. That's kind of what he left on me."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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