Football is more than just a game for senior Taylor Bradley.
Rather than playing for the bone-chilling hits and high adrenaline plays which many athletes feed off, the Cincinnati native said he dedicates his play to his family, the impressionable youth and an old friend.
“I just think about the people who don’t have the opportunity I have to play (NCAA Division I) ball,” Bradley said. “I think about my mom and what she went through, my brother, my dad and my grandma — I want to make them proud and I want them to see me be successful.”
Bradley said goodbye to Central Michigan football after butting heads with the new coaching staff following the 2010 season.
“I just couldn’t see myself doing that (leaving the program) and I felt like I was letting my coaches down, my teammates down and my family down,” he said.
Bradley made a call to head coach Dan Enos and scheduled a meeting to ask for a second chance. He drove up to Mount Pleasant solely for a 15-minute talk and then made his way back to Cincinnati.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to be who you want to be,” Bradley said. “I had to put my pride to the side and apologized to coach for everything I did.”
Enos met with the leadership council of players, who unanimously voted to bring Bradley back.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Taylor Bradley as a man,” Enos said. “I’ve seen him go from a young man to a man and he’s going to be very successful in whatever he does because of his attitude, work ethic and the type of person he is.”
Bradley first came to CMU as a wide receiver and played offense in 2007, catching his first collegiate touchdown Oct. 6 against Ball State.
He made the leap to defensive back his sophomore season and back to wide out his junior year. His return for his senior season was at cornerback.
“Whatever to help the team, I was willing to do it,” Bradley said, though he had never played defensive back prior to coming to CMU.
While wide receiver was where he had more experience, Bradley said just playing corner for two years has been enough to make it his preferred position.
“There’s something about locking down a receiver and not giving him that confidence that he always has — something about making a big play or a big hit that makes me like defense more,” he said.
Bradley rejoined the team as a walk-on after losing his scholarship and climbed the ranks from sixth-string cornerback to starter by the season opener against South Carolina State.
The senior recorded 11 tackles and an interception this season before suffering a torn Achilles tendon against Western Michigan.
“When I went into the locker room, I cried,” Bradley said. “I thought about missing the rest of the season and how much my teammates needed me. I took it hard, but my coaches and teammates were there for me.”
Although his injury sidelined him for the season, Bradley said he doesn’t want to be one of those players that slips away from the team when he’s kept off the field.
“I know most people when they get hurt shy away from the team because they think it’s all about them, but it’s not about me — it’s about the team,” he said.
Jahleel Addae and other teammates helped him with his transition to defense and now Bradley works with the young corners on the team, helping them better understand their roles.
Growing up, Bradley was backed by a supportive family, though he encountered several bumps along the way.
At 13, Bradley’s mother Kim Bradley was diagnosed with cancer. Her battle with the disease inspired him to continue to follow his dreams.
“My mom is my best friend and my hero,” Bradley said. “To see her go through what she did — she told me not to give up my dreams and to keep doing what I was doing if she was gone.”
Bradley said his dad was dedicated to him and took work off to attend his high school games. He considered his brother his “biggest fan.”
“I’ve had a great support system between my family and high school coach,” Bradley said. “He taught me that life’s about more than just football and I’m grateful to have that.”
Bradley’s support team took another hit in 2007 when he received a call that his close friend Ranear Kirksey passed away. Bradley and Kirksey always envisioned playing football at the collegiate level until Kirksey left the sport in 2004.
“I grew up with him and we looked out for each other,” Bradley said. “Sophomore year he just started hanging with the wrong people and I got the call my freshman year of college saying he had been murdered.”
Bradley was devastated by the loss of someone he was so close to back home, but he said it allowed him to see the road he could have traveled if it wasn’t for football.
“I try to do this for him because it’s something he always wanted to do,” he said. “Playing college ball was his dream and I just wanted to live it for him. I know he’s looking down, proud of me.”
Whether football continues throughout his life or he takes a different path, Bradley said he wants to continue to be a role model.
The defensive back is studying criminal justice at CMU, hoping to follow in his high school coach’s steps as a police sergeant and athletics coach.
“Coaches have the position where kids feel comfortable coming to talk to them about things, not just football,” Bradley said. “That’s one of the reasons I do want to come back and coach.”
Enos agreed and said he is in the field for a similar reason.
“People think we coach to win and that’s part of it, but I coach to watch a guy like Taylor Bradley go through what he did to become what he is now,” he said. “Taylor Bradley is a story I’ll never forget and he’ll be successful because of the adversity he faced and how he came out on top.”