Bradley Fletcher: A Great Catch

When a player commits to a school early, the fans tend to forget how excited they were to learn about the initial commitment. And the rankings do not always reflect how solid a prospect is. Both of these statements might be true about Bradley Fletcher. He committed to Iowa last April and though he is a solid prospect with great size and speed, his ranking never increased. But we feel that Fletcher might be one of the biggest sleepers in the 2004 recruiting class.

This story appeared in the January issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine and is an example of the feature-based content that you will find in each and every issue

Shortly after the Liberty High School football banquet concluded in early December, Superintendent Lawrence C. Prince approached head coach Jeff Whittaker.

"He said to me, ‘Anything we can do at all for Bradley Fletcher, you let me know,'" Whittaker said. "When the superintendent says that, you know he's a good kid. You couldn't find a teacher in this high school to say a bad word about Bradley Fletcher."

Fletcher's reputation as a good person might only be exceeded by his athletic ability. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior is a member of the all-Ohio first-team as well as earning a place on the all-conference, all-county, and all-district top squads as a safety.

Iowa received a verbal commitment from Fletcher last April shortly after he and Whittaker attended the Hawkeye spring game. The decision disappointed some colleges that found out about the defensive back's talents too late.

"There were a ton of coaches that really wanted him, especially after the fact," said Whittaker, whose school is located in Youngstown, Ohio. "One of the Big Ten coaches told me, ‘Iowa did a fine job getting in early and locking that one up.' They did. They were in early on him. They liked him from the get-go. He just fell in love with Iowa and he has never talked to another coach. He has no interest in any other program but Iowa. He's a very, very loyal person."

Fletcher's early commitment might have hurt his recruiting ranking. Few scouts evaluate players after they have already committed. And Fletcher kind of came out of nowhere after his junior season.

TheInsiders.com awards Fletcher two stars on a five-star scale and does not have a position rating for him. It was tough to rank him in that regard because he played running back and free safety as a senior after playing wide receiver and cornerback in his junior season. Iowa has told him that he will be a corner.

Fletcher said that he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range. He also is an accomplished basketball player having averaged more than 20 points and better than 10 rebounds as an 11th grader. He will not turn 18 until June.

No other schools had offered Fletcher at the time of his commitment to Iowa. That also likely hurt his ranking as much of status depends on who is recruiting you. Schools have continued to send letters to Fletcher. Syracuse and Akron do so most often.

Whittaker practiced with Fletcher at cornerback, but played him at free safety to give his team the best chance to win. The versatile senior intercepted two passes and broke up a few other attempts, but he was avoided on most occasions.

"People aren't going to throw in the middle of the field with Bradley Fletcher sitting there," Whittaker said. "Maybe twice the entire season they challenged him when we were in a zone coverage."

Fletcher compiled an efficiency coverage rating of 98 percent, Whittaker said. That means that in man coverage, the safety's assignment was getting the ball 2 percent of the time.

"Even in man coverage, they're not going to challenge Bradley Fletcher too often," Whittaker said. "He's too good of an athlete to be throwing a football at him. I don't have the numbers, but he had an amazing number of tackles. We use our free safety almost as another linebacker. He's a big, physical young man with a lot of speed and a lot of talent that can really turn some plays and break games open."

As a running back, Fletcher rushed for 815 yards on about 140 attempts for an average of around 5.8 yards per carry this fall. He also showed good hands in catching the ball out of the backfield.

As much as Fletcher has earned the right to brag, he talks little about his ability. In fact, he is a man of few words. It's not a standoffish approach or shyness. He is quiet, but very polite. You sometimes have to allow pauses occur in between his sentences as he carefully and eloquently arranges his thoughts.

"Bradley is about as good of a person as you're ever going to find," Whittaker said. "I'm going to tell you what, he is a class, quality individual. When you sit down with Bradley for 10 minutes, you will just feel a tremendous comfortable feeling."

Fletcher saw those same attributes in the Iowa football program. That's why he decided to make an early decision and forgo a lot of the perks and attention that come with being recruited by different schools.

"That's a great program going on out there," Fletcher said. "I was just happy to have the opportunity to play for them."

See. Short and sweet. No wasted words from Mr. Fletcher. Quick and to the point.

Iowa entertained Fletcher during his lone official college visit during the weekend of Nov. 1. He looked on as his future team stomped on Illinois, 41-10. Freshman receiver Herb Grigsby hosted him.

"That was fun," Fletcher said. "I got to meet up with some of the players. We just hung out in the dorm and got to see how it is in college. We were watching some football games on TV."

Iowa found out about Fletcher in large part because of the relationship between Whittaker and Hawkeye Offensive Coordinator Ken O'Keefe. The two have known each other since O'Keefe served as the head coach at Allegheny College from 1990-97. Whittaker sent his old friend videotape of his prospect, and O'Keefe liked what he saw.

The Hawkeyes asked some of their high school coaching connections in Ohio for a scouting report on Whittaker's player. They gave Iowa the thumbs up.

"I told Bradley that Iowa was interested and asked if he wanted to take a ride out and watch the spring game," Whittaker said. "We talked about the distance and all of that. We got out there and he just felt totally comfortable in that environment. He felt very comfortable with Coach Ferentz and the other coaches there. It was like a connection from the get-go. He's never wavered since."

Fletcher lives in an area dominated by Ohio State. But, he says, his friends support his decision to attend the Buckeyes' Big Ten rival.

"For whatever I do, they're there for me," Fletcher said. "I have good friends here. They're excited for me. I'll see them when I come home. And they all want to come and visit me."

Fletcher still was working towards qualifying academically in early December, and he felt confident that he would do so. He indicated that he wanted to study to be a teacher when he gets to Iowa.

"I like to see people get an education," he said. "I like to see people perform and do well in life. I like kids. I like to teach them about things. I think I can be a good mentor, someone to look up to."

Whitaker said that Fletcher likely will also earn all-state honors in basketball this winter. The senior believed that he would be able to walk away from the sport without any regrets after this season. He became much more attached to football years ago.

"All the other players have to do their job for the team to be successful, along with the coaching staff," Fletcher said. "Everyone has to do their part. It's a great game to watch, exciting."

A sense of team unity and chemistry drew Fletcher to the Hawkeye program. He saw early on that "we" came before "me."

"Football means a great deal out there," Fletcher said. "They really care about their players and their coaching staff. It will be great to be part of something like that."

As nice as it was to meet his future teammates and see the Kinnick Stadium crowd on his official visit, Fletcher sought possessions when he cam to Iowa City. He wanted to show the folks back in Ohio where they could find him for the next four or five years.

"When I was out there, I got (an Iowa) sweater and a hat from there," Fletcher said. "They look good."

Fletcher's parents also have encouraged their son going away to college.

"They feel that I'm mature enough to handle myself and do what I have to do with my education," he said.

Bradley has long looked up to his mother Vickie, a nurse. The family moved from Cleveland to Youngstown when Bradley was in seventh grade.

"She's been a nurse all of her life," Bradley said. "Seeing what my mom does makes me work at school and sports. I can't compare myself to how hard she works."

Whittaker said: "Bradley comes from a great family. It's not hard to see why he turned out the way he did. You just can't say enough good things about him as a person. He got lucky to find Iowa, and Iowa got lucky to find him."

BRADLEY FLETCHER UP CLOSE
High school:
Liberty
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
Ht: 6-2
Wt: 180
Prep Positions: RB, WR, FS, CB
College Position: Cornerback
40: 4.45

Accomplishments: Earned first-team all-Ohio honors after his senior season…Also was selected for all-district, all-county, and all-conference first teams…averaged more than 20 points and better than 10 rebounds as a junior guard on the Liberty basketball team…high school football team finished 8-2 this season, just missing the playoffs...cousin Marcellus Bowman – a 6-3, 190-pound senior-to-be WR, is being recruited by many of the country's top programs, including Big Ten contenders Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State.


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