Though Bradford was a tough, accomplished fullback, his fate was redirected in the summer of 2009 when he camped at ASU and the coaches had him work at linebacker. The prowess and innate physicality he showed for defense earned him a scholarship offer from the Sun Devils' staff, which he immediately accepted. From that point, Bradford's future was set on the defensive side of the ball—much to his delight.
"I love playing defense," said Bradford. "I love going and hitting somebody. I love the whole game and how it goes on defense. Fullback is cool, but I'd rather give the hits than block someone from getting hit."
For some first-year FBS football players, a position change can be a daunting task. In many cases, athletes require multiple seasons to fully acclimate to a new role. Thankfully, because of his prior experience playing the position he now defends, Bradford's learning curve was relatively minor because his approach and mentality can remain similar from fullback to linebacker.
"When I was a fullback, I was aggressive and wanted to hit people so it just transfers over to linebacker for me," said Bradford. "I can go downhill like when I was playing fullback and just meet backs in the hole and hit them."
Physically, there are very few question marks surrounding Bradford's potential—this offseason he set a team weight room record for linebackers—however, as can be expected, technical development was a must during his redshirt season.
"From last year to now I have come a long way," said Bradford. "I've been focusing on learning my keys, how to get off blocks, everything…studying coverages, how to flow over the top, how to shoot my gap and blitzes. The whole nine yards."
Bradford's development caught significant momentum; in the spring he was a consistent impact player and frequently showed his immense potential. However, away from the field Bradford was affected as much as any Sun Devil when Deantre Lewis, Bradford's long-time friend and classmate, was shot while visiting family in California.
"It hurt me, he's like my brother—we've been friends since we were like 10 years old," said Bradford. "I prayed for him; I love him to death. It really shook me too, but he's recovering very well and I expect him to bounce back and be amazing."
Naturally, the shocking nature of Lewis' incident brought to light realities that Bradford feels can be used as a lesson to help prevent similar circumstances from occurring.
"It made me realize that something like that really could happen to me and I'm not untouchable," said Bradford. "I have to watch myself in what I do and where I am and follow the good and not the bad. It really shocked me."
Now that Bradford is in the final preparation stages for his first year on the field for the Devils, he is in the thick of competition for reps at a dangerously deep group of Sun Devil linebackers. Specifically, Bradford draws motivation and inspiration from the man ahead of him on the depth chart at middle linebacker—All-American Vontaze Burfict.
"I see him and it pushes me to try harder," said Bradford. "I like how aggressive he is and I try to be like that, too. I want to follow his footsteps but also do my own thing as well. He's really helpful to me."
As Sun Devil fans know, ASU's linebackers are far from a one-trick pony; even when the Devils dip to the third or even fourth stringers, the quality is as good as many starting linebacker groups in the Pac-12. With heavy senior influences such as Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons, Colin Parker and Oliver Aaron, Bradford has an amazing network of mentors, but also rigorous competition for playing time.
"Our depth at linebacker makes me compete more," said Bradford. "I know somebody's right there on my tail, so I have to make sure what I do is real crisp and I have to try not to mess up. It's competition; it makes you play better knowing everything isn't easy and you actually have to work for it."
Though ASU's defense—specifically its linebackers—has been excellent over the past two years, with continued player development and new additions such as Bradford, the potency for destruction figures to rise even more.
"[Opposing teams] will have to watch out for everything I do because I'm going to be everywhere—they're going have to triple block me," said Bradford. "The depth [at linebacker] is crazy. If one goes down, another steps right up and he's going to be as good as the one in front of him. We're going to murder people with our linebacker unit. It's the best in the country."
Though he has yet to step on the field for live duty, the team's veteran influences have the redshirt freshman fully aware that 2011 is a prime opportunity for the Sun Devils to strike and that the defense will be a major part of that mission. That mission, as many players have echoed, is not simply muster enough wins to return to the postseason—this year's Sun Devils are striving for the highest possible achievement.
With the team's combination of widespread veteran leadership and new components peppered in at key spots, ASU's potential in 2011 is as grand as it has been in several years. However, much as the university's branding slogan predicts, the window of opportunity may not be massive; this season truly is time.
"Everybody knows that we have to get it done this year," said Bradford. "The last few years we've been iffy, but everyone knows that with all the leaders we have that this is our year to take it. Everybody knows that and feels it in their heart; we have to do it this year, no ifs, ands or buts. We have to do it."