Isaiah Bradford had lofty goals for his senior season. He hoped to make 150 tackles this year after having 102 last season for Redlands East Valley High.
But that goal and his plan to lead the Wildcats into the postseason both came crumpling to the turf when the three-star safety prospect tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the third week of the season.
“It’s been kind of tough,” Bradford said. “This season’s been kind of tough just being on the sideline. I’ve just been there for my team mentally, but not being able to help them on the field has been very tough. We’re 0-9 right now and I know if was playing, I would make a big difference. But I’ve just been trying to stay as positive as I can. And just know that everything happens for a reason, that God does have a plan for me.”
Bradford’s plan includes attending Boise State, following in the footsteps of his cousin, running back Alexander Mattison. Mattison was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings in April. Bradford committed to become a Bronco three days later.
“He told me there’s no place like it and that I would love it there,” Bradford said. “The culture. The people. The community. The blue turf. You could just feel the love -- the love the community has for the football players and just how much they appreciate the team. Just being there and seeing the culture and just everything they were about, I just bought in too. I just felt like that was the place for me.”
But his knee injury has altered that plan as well. Insurance issues and swelling pushed back his surgery date, which is now scheduled for December. He actually has to go through pre-surgery rehabilitation to help him get full range of motion with the joint before the doctors repair the ligament.
A December surgery all but assures Bradford will miss the 2020 football season. Instead of trying to rush him back potentially for a late-season appearance, the Boise State coaching staff told the 6-foot, 170-pound defensive back they want him to wait to enroll until the second semester of the 2020-21 academic year, utilizing a recruiting technique known as grayshirting. When a student-athlete enrolls during the second semester, which typically begins in early January, the coaching staff can count his scholarship either forward or backward toward the allotment of 25 that the NCAA allows a football program per year. The maneuver also delays the beginning of a student-athlete’s five-year window to play four years of athletics.
Bradford was taken aback when the idea was first broached. He was ready to head to Boise and didn’t realize his surgery would be delayed so late. He thought he’d be well on his way with his rehab by the summer and wanted to redshirt — being able to maintain a year of eligibility while playing in four or fewer games.
“I would have preferred redshirting instead of grayshirting, but then I talked it over [with the coaches] and it was something that I understood. I understood why they wanted to grayshirt me,” Bradford said. “It’s just giving me more time to heal and come back. It’s still a blessing to have a full-ride scholarship that most kids work their whole life for and they still don’t get.”
Bradford’s goals have shifted. His focus is to come back bigger and better. He is a physical safety that likes coming downhill to lay into receivers and ball carriers. He wants to add up to 25 pounds to his frame to make his hits more impactful. He hopes to be ready to step in and compete for a safety spot during the Broncos’ 2021 spring camp. Rather than take a year away from the game, he is considering coaching with his high school team next season to keep him sharp mentally while he rehabs physically.