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June 23, 2015

Friends, family: Bradford has always been 'a fierce competitor'

Eagles NFL
062315_bradforddad_ Photo courtesy of Kent Bradford/for PhillyVoice

Sam Bradford and his father, former Oklahoma lineman Kent.

When Ben Bench visits the old neighborhood in Northwest Oklahoma City, in spring or early summer, he and childhood buddy Sam Bradford try and get in a few rounds of golf; generally at the Oak Tree Country Club in the suburb of Edmond. High school classmates at Putnam City North High School (Class of 2007), both were on the Panthers’ golf team.

Bench played golf in college at Oklahoma City University. Bradford, of course, went on to play a little football at the University of Oklahoma.

Both are now scratch golfers.

Bench lives in Madison, Wis., where he uses his degree in Biomedical Science at a medical software company. They happen to have accounts with CHOP and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Center City.

“I’ll be one hundred percent honest with you," Bench said. “Sam could have played college basketball, without a doubt. And he probably could have played a couple of other sports if he cared about them. It’s always incredible to me how athletic he is."

“When we play now, it’s pretty relaxed," Bench said about their outings. “But I think in the back of our heads, we’re so competitive we keep track. If it’s close, we kind of know. Last year we played Pebble Beach with our fathers. I think we each won three rounds.

“When we’re not golfing we usually get a group of guys and hang out or go fishing."

He didn’t say whether they measure trout.

“We met in fourth grade and were on the same football team. I played center, then in fifth grade I was a tight end and he was always throwing the ball to me. We were both an only child, and we started hanging out together; played basketball together, street hockey, whatever. We also played on the school volleyball team."

Bradford excelled in just about everything. He played ice hockey. He played baseball through his freshman year of high school. His senior year in basketball he averaged a double-double. As well as being an honor roll student, he also gave the cello a shot in his elementary school orchestra.

“I’ll be one hundred percent honest with you," Bench said. “Sam could have played college basketball, without a doubt. And he probably could have played a couple of other sports if he cared about them. It’s always incredible to me how athletic he is."

And how competitive.

Former St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo had Bradford two seasons, including his rookie year of 2010.

"He’s a better athlete than people think, and a tremendous, tremendous, fierce competitor," he told Anthony Gargano this spring in an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic. "He’s a smart football player. He’s had some unfortunate (injuries), but trust me when I tell you he’s got all the skills.

"I keep going back to the fierce competitor because the elite quarterbacks in this league have that. Think of them all: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Payton Manning, Eli Manning. All are very fierce competitors, they love the challenge, they love to rally people around them. Sam has that. I really believe that."

So does Terry Shea, who worked with Bradford for eight weeks at the API Training Center in Pensacola, Fla., prior to the 2010 NFL Draft.

An assistant coach in the NFL for eight years (including with former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil), Shea has also tutored QBs Matthew Stafford, Brady Quinn, Josh Freeman and Robert Griffin III, among others.

The issue with the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is his left knee, the knee of the leg he plants and puts pressure on to throw the football.

After his best season in 2012, Bradford tore the ACL in that knee while ironically running out of bounds in Week 7. Then, last year in a preseason game, he tore the same ACL and missed the entire season.

"I’ve trained a lot of these quarterbacks and watched them go into the NFL," said Shea, who authored “Eyes Up," a book of more than 400 pages essentially about playing the position. “Because they were drafted high, they were drafted by teams that weren’t very good. So they get in that cycle where they get spun around and pretty soon they’ve been in the league three years and have had three different offensive coordinators and two head coaches.

“I mean, they never get a chance to settle in. Sam’s a classic example. He had three OCs, two head coaches. And he fought through injuries. So, it’s been a tough road for him. He’s fought through some tremendous setbacks from an injury standpoint, and he’s had to learn how to overcome some of the most critical injuries you can have as a quarterback.

“A lot of them go through the same challenges and some of them don’t climb out of them," Shea added. "But Sam was fortunate to get traded, and I think he’s on the cutting edge of a pretty interesting offensive phenomena that might take off with Chip Kelly there."

John Froschauer/AP File photo
Sam Bradford threw 50 touchdowns and for 4720 yards in his 2008 Heisman Trophy-winning season as a sophomore at Oklahoma.

Bradford won the 2008 Heisman Trophy -- becoming only the second sophomore* to do so -- throwing a remarkable 50 touchdowns against just eight interceptions in 14 games. He threw 88 touchdowns and for 8403 yards in 31 games at Oklahoma. 

*The first was his now-teammate Tim Tebow, who won as a sophomore one year prior while at Florida.

"Sam was as good as it gets coming out of college and he still can be that," Spagnuolo told Gargano.

Bradford’s love of the game is no surprise, as Sam’s father and grandfather also played college football.

His father Kent was a lineman at Oklahoma and was a freshman on the 1975 National Championship team. Kent’s father played the sport at Oklahoma State. The lineage stops there.

“My granddad probably quit school in grade two or three," Kent said with a distinct drawl. "He had it tough. His parents grew up in Eastern Oklahoma, over the hills; not much work and not much money over there."

Like his father, Kent didn’t pressure Sam where to attend college.

"My father said to me, 'Hey, that’s your call.' That’s what I would say to him about all his sports. 'If you wanna' play, fine. If you don’t, fine. It’s your call.'"

"Sam was fortunate to get traded, and I think he’s on the cutting edge of a pretty interesting offensive phenomena that might take off with Chip Kelly there," Shea said. 

The family tree goes beyond football. Kent Bradford told the New York Times a few years ago that his great-grandmother, Susie Walkingstick, was a full-blooded Cherokee.

"At times, it’s somewhat awkward in that he and I are indeed portrayed as Indians." he said. "We do have some Indian blood. I wasn’t brought up to really know much about it."

What he did know was being there for his son, coaching him for a while in football, baseball and basketball. One incident stands out, a day he was throwing batting practice to his young son and one pitch got away.

"Sam claims that I hit him intentionally," the father recalled with a laugh. "I said, 'No. I was trying to throw the ball inside so you would move back and it wouldn’t be an odd thing for you.' He said, ‘No, no, no. You tried to hit me!’

“I was probably wild," he said, his smile coming through the phone. “And I very well may have."

Kent was still close to his playing weight of 6-3, 265. 

“I started out as a tight end, but when they saw my lack of speed I became an offensive lineman," he cracked. "I would like to get down to 225, but I like eatin’ too much."

He still has his National Championship ring. But not displayed. It’s in a plastic bag, with a few other conference rings, in a little drawer in his roll top desk.

An independent insurance agent for close to 40 years, he lives with his wife Martha, a former elementary school teacher. He said their son is "low key, quietly confident; doesn’t seek any kind of spotlight."

Clearly the proverbial apple did not fall far from the Cercis Canadensis: the state’s official tree.

"Sam’s gotten a lot of his traits from his dad," Bench said. “He’s been somewhat of a father figure to me as well. He’s a goofball, and such an awesome guy. Sam is very selfless.

“We always joke about of all the people I know, Sam’s personality is the least fit for the situation he’s in. He is not a limelight kind of person, so it’s probably forced him to push his comfort zone.

“I always remember him wanting to be a lawyer until early college. That or something in finance," Bench added. “I always thought that was something he would do. He was a finance major. Then late in the game it was, ‘Oh wow, he’s really going to do this and go sign an enormous contract ($78 million), and all along it was never really planned.

“But he hasn’t changed. He’s not arrogant or cocky, and I think that’s been the biggest challenge for him; dealing with having that hat of getting out in front of a lot of people and being more of a vibrant personality. Instead of that I think he is naturally kind of like, 'My actions are going to speak louder than my words.'"

Eagles fans would like two of those words to be Super and Bowl.