Outstanding in his field, W.J. Mount Hawks’ Grade 12 linebacker Robert Bradley had never played football before this season, but wound up leading his team in tackles. — Michael Enns Michael Enns photo / PNG
By Howard Tsunamura, The Province, Nov 9, 2016
Robert Bradley doesn’t pretend for a second that any of this was actually supposed to happen.
“Originally, I just joined to get the letterman jacket,” the Grade 12 honour-roll student at Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat begins. “I thought it looked cool and that maybe I might get the chance to get in a few games.”
Instead, on the eve of the Subway Bowl B.C. high school football playoffs, a most amazing transformation has taken place.
Plucked off a baseball diamond six months ago with not a shred of football experience and expected at best to provide roster depth this season, Bradley’s journey from middle infielder to starting middle linebacker continues Friday when he suits up in the heart of the Hawks’ defence for its opening-round road playoff game against Victoria’s defending B.C. triple A-champion Mt. Douglas Rams.
“This is a rare thing, to be so successful in your first year out,” laughs Mouat head coach Travis Bell of Bradley, who not only made the team out of fall camp, but lined up as the starter in what many call football’s most demanding and cerebral position. “Football is such a complex and physical sport.
“We work hard with our Grade 9s hoping that they will evolve into what he has done just in his Grade 12 year,” the coach continues. “But I guess this is a lesson to me, and to all coaches and kids. If you haven’t taken a shot at something, it’s never too late to try.”
Bradley not only gave it a try, he blew anyone’s best-scenario predictions out of the water. His 55 tackles not only led the team, they were enough to put him fourth-overall in the Eastern Conference and 11th in all of triple A football.
So just how did the accidental linebacker arrive at his position in the heart of the Mouat defence as a first-year senior?
Bell remembers having a conversation with Mouat Secondary principal Jay Pankratz last April, during which time Pankratz, who coaches the Abbotsford Cardinals junior baseball team, told him about a certain centre-fielder/second baseman who exhibited all the telltale signs of a successful multi-sport athlete.
“Jay told me, ‘You’ve got to get this Robert Bradley kid out to football,’ ” remembers Bell. “So the same day I approached him in the hallway and he said, ‘Sure.’ But I knew it was going to be hard for him because it’s tough for any first-year Grade 12 kid to get football.”
In hindsight, however, after taking a glance at Bradley’s Grade 11 transcript, it’s a little easier understanding how the 6-foot, 155-pounder made such a seamless transition. A 97 per cent in chemistry, a 99 per cent in French, a 98 per cent in physics and a 100 per cent in pre-calculus certainly isn’t going to insure one’s ability to blitz, cover, spy and tackle out of the linebacking core. Yet those book-smart attributes, when added to Bradley’s athletic ability and competitive soul, have equalled a winning combination.
“I actually think that (academic) stuff does help,” says Bradley, whose position is akin to being the quarterback of the defence. “I am pretty smart and I’m a quick learner. Learning the plays of the other team is important in determining how things will develop on any play.”
That steep learning curve will be put to the test again Friday against a Mt. Douglas team that boasts some of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the province.
Twelve months ago, Robert Bradley couldn’t have possibly imagined that he’d be playing football, let alone strapping on a helmet and leading his defence into the provincial playoffs.
But serendipity intervened, and the accidental linebacker found his calling.
“I’ve always been the kind of kid that loves to win, and when I realized early on that I could compete with all of the other guys, I wanted to be No. 1,” Bradley says. “Originally, though, I was just hoping I would get a chance to play.”
And, of course, to get a letterman’s jacket.
SUBWAY BOWL 2016
OPENING ROUND PLAYOFF GAMES
TOP HALF DRAW
1 p.m. — Mt. Douglas (West-4) vs. W.J. Mouat (East-5) (at Victoria-Goudy Field)
Winner faces Terry Fox (East-1, Rd. 1 bye)
4 p.m. — Belmont (West-6) vs. Centennial (East-3) (at Percy Perry Stadium)
1:30 p.m. — South Delta (West-2) vs. Handsworth (Pacific-2) (at Langley-McLeod Stadium)
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
2 p.m. — Lord Tweedsmuir (East-2) vs. Abbotsford (Pacific-1) (at Cloverdale Athletic Park)
7:30 p.m. — Mt. Boucherie (East-6) vs. New Westminster (West-3) (at Mercer Stadium)
7:30 p.m. — St. Thomas More (East-4) vs. Vancouver College (West-5) (at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex)
Winner faces Notre Dame (West-1, Rd. 1 bye)
TOP HALF DRAW
3 p.m. — Windsor (West-3) vs. Clarence Fulton (Okanagan-2) (at Vernon Athletic Park)
Winner faces G.W. Graham (East-1, Rd. 1 bye)
4 p.m. — Robert Bateman (East-4) vs. Seaquam (West-2) (at Burnaby Central)
Winner faces Duchess Park (North-1)
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
6 p.m. — Argyle (East-3) vs. Nechako Valley (North-2) (at Kamloops-Hillside Stadium)
Winner faces Hugh Boyd (West-1, Rd. 1 bye)
1 p.m. — Ballenas (West-4) vs. Holy Cross (East-2) (at Abbotsford Secondary)
Winner faces Vernon (Interior-1, Rd. 1 bye)
(The Province’s Big 5 football rankings are online now. Look for the High School icon at provincesports.com)