LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. — These days Carl Bradford spends a lot of his time reflecting on this past year. The former Arizona State linebacker wreaked havoc on opposing offenses, earned a degree in criminal justice and announced himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Now, in between yoga class and a massage at Athletes First, his agency’s headquarters, he gathers his thoughts about what he’s gained and lost in the past 11 months.
“The date is coming up, it’s March 12,” Bradford told FOXSports.com in an exclusive interview. ”It’s actually my brother’s birthday. That’s the day that my dad passed away.”
Roy Bradford, 70, died of a heart attack in his son’s arms during a family trip. Roy, who was from Jonesboro, Louisiana, wanted to introduce his sons to some relatives by taking them on a trip to where he grew up.
“I’ve never been to Louisiana, so he wanted to take me and my older brother to show us around,” Bradford said. “I’ve got a big family.”
Bradford, 21, remembers leaving his aunt’s house around 11 p.m. at night. While driving back with his two brothers and sister, his father persisted on stopping at a nearby bingo hall so Carl could meet his half-brother Danny.
They spent some time getting to know each other, playing slot machines and hanging out. Carl remembers having to step away for a minute to listen to a voicemail. When he returned, he noted that it was one of his cousins asking if he could speak to a group of kids. His dad said that he should do it when he returned back to California. Seconds later, the fateful moment arrived.
“He looked at me and his eyes just rolled back in his head,” Bradford recalled. “I had him in my arms and my sister was there pounding on his chest. My brother started giving him mouth-to-mouth to bring him back, but he never did.
“He died in my arms. That really changed my life and the way I look at things. It’s a hard time. I’m still trying to deal with it even though it’s coming up in March.”
As Bradford prepares for the NFL Scouting Combine, he is fueled by his family and the memory of his late father.
“Honestly, when I signed up at age 10, I said I’m going to the NFL,” Bradford said. “I’m chasing my dream and I’m grabbing it. Ever since that young age I kept that mindset and I’m here now.”
The 6-foot-1, 241-pound linebacker’s production dipped during his redshirt junior season (61 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 19.0 TFL) as he was dealing with off-the-field challenges.
“That affected my play a lot for just not being there mentally,” he said. “I would think about it. Once you lose your father that way, there’s no telling what could happen. Your mind just goes.”
After a redshirt sophomore campaign that included double-digit sacks and 81 tackles, opponents began to game plan for his skillset by double teaming him with an offensive tackle and a tight end.
“My redshirt sophomore year, no one knew who I was,” Bradford said. “I was getting one-on-one blocks and I was disruptive everywhere as the stats show. My junior season they were more keyed in on me. They’d double me up but my work ethic didn’t change. I still tried to beat the double teams.”
The past month has been dedicated working on his positional drills including dropping in coverage and perfecting the 40-yard dash. During his days at Norco High School (Norco, Calif.), he was a full-time fullback as the offense specialized in running the Wing-T. The aggressive-natured positions mirror one another, which made for a seamless transition at the next level.
Now as he turns the page towards his professional career, he answers the question of what his father would tell him now that he’s going through the draft process.
“It’s been a long year,” Bradford said. “He’d tell me, ‘Don’t stop, keep going. I know he’s super proud, man.’”