We often marvel at the student-athletes of Stanford who successfully manage their education and athletics. Most of us had a whirlwind time balancing what was on our plate in college, but the year-round commitments of a varsity athlete on top of that "nominal" college experience are hard to fathom. Stanford sophomore Mark Bradford has been one of the truly insane few who piled on a second sport. From a distance, fans have heaped praise and admiration for the superstar efforts and performances he has given in football and basketball, but he has struggled with the juggling act. Earlier this week, he told Stanford Basketball head coach Trent Johnson of his decision to quite basketball and concentrate on football and academics full-time.
"I'll probably be hurting for a while, watching the team play and wishing I was out there with them," the now-retired point guard laments. "We think this is the right decision, but at the same time, it's hard to accept."
Bradford five weeks ago finished his second season of Stanford Football, and for the last four weeks he has been operating full-time with the basketball team. The 6'2" athlete leaves his hoops teammates and coaches in a little bit of a lurch, creating a hole in practices at the point guard position that was already gaping with junior Carlton Weatherby out until at least February with a broken foot. It is a testament to the respect Bradford has garnered from the staff and players that he played Wednesday and Thursday - his only two appearances of the season.
"Everybody didn't want to see me go, but they want what is best for me," the Stanford sophomore shares. "There were supportive of me."
"I just love the game so much. I don't want to give it up, but I was having a little bit of an academic problem," Bradford explains. "I want more time to give to my classes - to give it my all. I had football, basketball and school all on my plate last year, but this fall quarter got to me a little more than any other quarter."
As a point guard, Bradford had remarkable poise on the floor despite missing the preseason individual workouts that started in late September and then six full weeks of team practices. His contributions came from his athleticism and competitiveness, even when his skills were rusty. But the sophomore guard had played a total of 26 minutes in his year-plus of college basketball, while starting 19 out of 22 games in football at wide receiver. Bradford has pro potential on the gridiron, so his decision to focus on football among the two sports was clear.
As a wideout, Bradford broke out in the biggest way in 2003, setting a new Stanford freshman record for receiving with 587 yards on 37 receptions. Relative to his own expectations, he slumped as a sophomore this fall catching 34 balls for 482 yards.
"I wasn't satisfied with my football performance this year, and I don't want that to happen again," he charges. "I want to be able to give 100% of myself athletically to football as well as academically to my classes. I'm really looking forward to getting in the weight room full-time with the guys this winter."
While playing basketball last winter quarter, Bradford was away from the football team. He missed not only their most focused quarter of strength and conditioning, but he also missed voluntary workouts on the field where the quarterbacks and receivers kept sharp throwing and catching the ball. When spring quarter began and he made a rapid shift back to the football field for all-important spring team practices, Bradford looked like a fish out of water. While teammates surged forward in their development, he searched to get his football legs back again.
It will be interesting to see how the one-sport focus to start 2005 will show up in spring ball come April. If nothing else, Bradford hopes to have his body rested, repaired and tuned to football. He has been playing or practicing with one ball or another non-stop for the last 18 months.
"One fact that contributed to my decision was that I wasn't able to become healthy and stay healthy," he allows. "Playing both sports has been wearing on my body. My knees have been bothering the whole time I've been with basketball [this month]."
"Mark is a great athlete and a great person," Trent Johnson offers. "I fully support his decision to concentrate on football and academics. Mark should be commended for the maturity he has shown in his decision making process. This allows him to achieve his goals of being the best he can be in the class room and on the football field."
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