by Carlos Bradley (as told to Ron Petrou)
(Ed. Note: Carlos Bradley, 57, grew up on the 800 block of Chelten Avenue in Germantown. He graduated from Germantown High School in 1977, where he was an All-American football player. He was a star linebacker at Wake Forest University until 1982, when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. He played linebacker for the Chargers for five years and then one year for the Eagles, but injuries ended his career. At 6-foot-1, his playing weight was 225 to 230, and his current weight is 255 to 260. He currently lives in Mt. Airy and has been a fitness instructor at AFC Aqualab Fitness Center in Bala Cynwyd for 18 years. He was recently chosen by Philadelphia Magazine as the “Trainer of the Year.” Currently, he is the World Natural Powerlifting Federation’s “power curling” record holder at 210 pounds.)
I was recently asked what was my best memory of my six years in the NFL. The thing that affected me most was the very first time I put my game jersey on. Most people don’t get to do what they thought about doing since they were kids, let alone do it and make a living at it. So when you go into the locker room on your first game day, you find your jersey 10 feet up in the air. You’re in awe of this jersey, like “That’s me; I’m getting ready to put it on.”
Remember, like everything you worked for all your life is right there in front of you. So now you’ve been through little league and high school and college, and you’re going to put on this uniform and play. Talk about being criticized and being publicly ridiculed. What if things don’t go right? What if I make a mistake?
And I’m just sitting there looking up at this jersey, and I start crying. Then I think, “Now wait a minute. You’ve got a game tonight.” And I pulled the jersey down like it had to become part of me. The team knows that putting on the jersey for the first time is going to affect you. They want you to understand that this is serious, that it’s a big deal, a big deal. It’s high-level.
The first game kickoff was great too. You go in and you try to kill yourself or someone else. That’s like what I always say, that football is the closest thing to war. I think it’s the same for every football player going into his very first game. In high school, in college or the first one in the pros, it’s still the same excitement.
But of course, to start your first game as a pro is never just a normal situation. You always realize this is something a little different. You know there are only about 1,700 professional football players. Statistically, with over one million kids playing in high school and about 93,000 playing in 896 colleges last year, according to scholarshipstats.com, only 1.6% of the college football players end up playing for the NFL. It ain’t a lot. So to be one of the few, the proud, the fortunate to get to that level, even to try out, even to work out for a couple of days or weeks at that level, most football players never get there, let alone make it. And the average career now is only about 3.3 years, according to the NFL Players Association.
And of course, there are the injuries, especially CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Concussion issues. It ends up being nerve-related. Your nervous system being out of whack. The ones who are most severely injured are not the linemen because the collisions on the line are closer. The worst is for defensive backs, running backs and receivers because the impacts are from greater distances. Linemen do Sumo wrestling, bumping into each other. It’s the guy who runs 15 yards and then smashes into somebody who really gets hurt.
And about the chance of getting hurt, it’s not even a chance. You’re going to get hurt. It’s just when. Everybody ends up getting hurt. It’s a matter of if you’re hurt or if you’re injured. They always say if you’re hurt, you can play, but if you’re injured, you can’t play. I pulled my hamstring one time, and wow, I’m out! But they wouldn’t put me on IR (injured reserved). The coach said, “You know we really need you to play.” And I said, “I pulled my hamstring. How am I going to play with a pulled hamstring?”
One of the vets came up to me and said, “Don’t use it.” And I said, “What you mean? How am I going to run and not use my hamstring?” And he said, “Why do you run? Don’t take your knees up like that. Run with your feet.” He was a good old boy from Alabama. Maybe that’s how you chase rabbits or something. I don’t know, but he said, “Don’t lift your legs.” So guess what? I played and did what he said. I didn’t lift my legs up. The legs just ran with my feet. And that was okay.
(Ed. Note: Bradley also directs a non-profit organization, The International Student Athlete Academy, which has been in existence for 22 years, He describes it as follows:)
This college exposure five-day camp is designed to give middle school student-athletes, grades 5 through 8, a realistic view of the life of a high school and collegiate student-athlete. This experience focuses primarily on academic and social preparation for high school and ultimately college.
We have helped 3,000 student athletes get into college. We oversee a series of camps and seminars in life skills, health and wellness in Germantown, North Philly, the Northeast and South Philly. Our goal is to help students develop their athletic prowess but also become well-rounded people. We focus on both athletics and academics. I firmly believe young athletes have to be academically educated first so that they can become better athletes. There is too much to learn and too much to know.
For more information about the camps, visit www.isaasports.com.
TO BE CONTINUED