He needed to be by himself. But in that moment, he definitely wasn't alone.
Bradford's father, Roy, died in his arms on March 12, 2013, of an apparent heart attack while they were on a trip to Roy's home state of Louisiana. A former receiver and running back with the legendary Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, Roy introduced Carl to the game of football when he was just 10 and was a guiding influence throughout his son's life, right up until the end of his.
"Man … it was … I mean, I was speaking to the Packers and soon after that I just walked away by myself and just broke down in tears thinking of him and how proud he is of me," a still-emotional Bradford said during his conference call. "So, yeah … I play for him, I play through him, and it's a blessing and the grace of God that I got this opportunity. I can always pray that he's here with me, but he's here in my heart and spirit and always will be. He'll still be my right-hand man. He's amazing.
"It was the most difficult thing I'd ever been through in my life… to have your father pass away in front of you, in your arms, is something I would never forget. It's always a memory right there in my head when I close my eyes at night and, from now on, I play for him and through him and it gives me strength and courage and motivation. When it first happened, I was lost. But I found the Lord, Jesus Christ, and He helped me do it. To know that my father is in heaven and just super-proud of me keeps a warm place in my heart. But I will and always continue to play for him."
The loss, understandably, affected Bradford. Combined with the added attention in the form of double teams after a sophomore season in which he racked up 81 tackles, including 11.5 sacks and 20.5 for losses (No. 10 nationally), he saw his numbers dip during his junior season. Still, Bradford stacked 60 stops, including 8.5 sacks and 19 for losses, on top of his previous season's production.
Bradford started 27 games at the "Devilbacker" position, which is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. During that span, Bradford totaled 20 sacks, 39.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, six forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, two interceptions and eight pass deflections.
His athleticism was apparent on both sides of the ball back at Norco (Cal.) High School. Along with being a top linebacker, he was Scout.com's seventh-ranked fullback after rushing for 1,053 yards and 18 touchdowns along with 396 receiving yards and four scores in two varsity seasons. After a redshirt season in 2010, when ASU tried to figure out what side of the ball he'd play on, he appeared in 12 games as a reserve defensive end the following year, earning his first career start in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Bradford capped his Sun Devils career by earning all-Pac 12 first-team honors and All-American honorable mention, then turned in an impressive showing at the NFL Combine, where he lead all linebackers with a 10'1 broad jump. Undersized by NFL outside linebacker standards at 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, he could get a look at inside linebacker. But the immediate plan for Bradford — predicted to be selected anywhere from the second round to the fourth — is to line up on the outside and take advantage of what he does best.
"You can look at his jumps – 37-inch vertical jump, 10'1 broad – he's a very explosive athlete and that helps when you have a lack of length because you have to get guys off of you, and we thought he could do some of that stuff," Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said.
"He's hardly had any time (at inside linebacker) so that would be a complete transition. He's been an edge guy most of his career. He's a pass rusher. That's what he does best. What we liked about him was his ability to get off the ball and create edge pressure. He was relentless and had a variety of moves. He's not just a ‘skin the corner' guy; he can counter, he's got the explosive power. Pass rushers in this league are very hard to find and if you can find them ... you know, you just look at the teams that are winning and they have them."
Bradford agrees that his best spot would be at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, where he can stand up and see more of what's going on. More quick than fast, he ran a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, but the game film reveals a smooth and fluid athlete that gets to the quarterback with eye-popping consistency.
"Right now, I'll just focus on learning the defense and understanding that first and then play wherever they need me to play at.
"I'm a versatile player and I'm a smart player so I would understand it and get the concept of it and whether I'm outside or in the box, I'd enjoy that."
He didn't know he'd be playing in Green Bay, and doesn't know for sure where he'll end up on the defense, but whatever successes or struggles await him, he knows he won't be facing them alone. His "right-hand man" — so proud of his son — will be right there with him.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.