Allen Bradford was ready to quit.
The bruising redshirt junior USC running back admits he considered transferring multiple times when it seemed he wasn’t working his way into the rotation.
But the words of his father, Keith, always stayed with him.
“My dad told me, ‘Life’s gonna get hard — you can’t run from it,’” Bradford said.
Instead, Bradford played true to his father’s words and ran through it, showcasing his power and his speed as he pounded Oregon State defenders in USC’s 42-36 win Saturday against the Beavers at the Coliseum.
In his long-awaited breakout game as a Trojan, Bradford rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, his first 100-yard performance. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound running back is known for his power, but he demonstrated his speed as well on a 43-yard scoring burst in the third quarter.
Bradford entered the game in the second quarter and dominated from there on. Joe McKnight, the starter, got only three carries after Bradford went in, partly because of a hand injury, but mostly because Bradford was hot.
In his first chance to be “the man,” Bradford demonstrated what Trojan fans had been missing out on all these years.
Coming out of Colton High in San Bernardino, Bradford was supposed to be the next powerful back to play at USC. But a crowded backfield that included a handful of other blue chip running backs limited his chances.
He was then slowed by injuries, particularly a hip flexor that required surgery last season and forced him to redshirt.
Multiple times he felt like transferring, and he wondered if he had made the wrong choice in coming to USC. But encouragement from his dad and his teammates picked him up in the same way he carried the USC offense Saturday night.
“Players like Taylor Mays, Thomas Williams — a lot of players — told me, ‘Just stick it out, your time will come,’” Bradford said.
Bradford recalls the early season game against Idaho his sophomore year as being one of his most trying moments. Starting running back Chauncey Washington went down with an injury, and Bradford expected to be the guy called upon to rise to the occasion and fill in.
But when coaches chose to give other running backs a chance instead, Bradford was dejected.
“Chauncey was hurt and I still didn’t get in,” he said. “I think that was the lowest point for me on the field. That’s when I really just thought about leaving.”
Coach Pete Carroll wasn’t quite sure what to do with Bradford when he joined the Trojans in 2006. Originally recruited as a safety, Bradford moved back to running back and also bounced around to full back during his freshman year.
He carried the ball just 13 times as a freshman and 15 times as a sophomore. He found the end zone five times, but it wasn’t enough to keep the former prep star satisfied.
That’s why this season has been so fulfilling for Bradford. His role in the offense has been building from the opening game, and in light of the injury to Stafon Johnson, he’s getting more and more touches each game.
“It’s sad how it had to come,” Bradford said of his increased role. “I would rather have Stafon back and him not going through that than me playing more, but I just had to open the door when opportunity knocked.”
He didn’t open the door so much as run through it, establishing himself as the go-to power back that coaches can use to counter the speed of Joe McKnight.
If that sounds familiar to the “Thunder and Lightning” days of the Reggie Bush-Lendale White era, that’s no accident. In fact, it’s what Carroll has been waiting for.
“I love having the tough, physical, hard-nosed guy,” Carroll said. “I’ve always felt like we’ve had our best offenses when we have that guy.”
Bradford wants to be that guy and fill the role that White played to such perfection.
“I just want to be the thunder and have Joe be the lightning,” Bradford said.
It has been a long journey to this point for Bradford, but it finally seems as if the wait has paid off. Since the words of his father helped to lift him through the low moments of his USC career, Bradford honored him by writing “I promise” on his eye black.
It is a promise to his father that Bradford will make it to the NFL one day, and provide for his father so he can stop working six days a week as a janitor in San Bernardino.
It is a promise that Bradford will never quit.
It is perhaps also a promise Bradford is making to himself, a reminder that if football gets hard again, the only place he’ll be running is into the end zone.
“Middle Ground” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.