Allen Bradford has to be used to the challenges by now.
After entering fall practice as the projected starting running back, the official depth chart released by USC coach Lane Kiffin last week shows Bradford again short of the starting role. Redshirt junior Marc Tyler will start against Hawai’i on Thursday. Bradford will surely get his carries, but he wants that starting job.
But just when Bradford seemed so close, it all could be slipping away.
A knee bruise he suffered earlier in the month has had a lot to do with holding him back, and he is still not quite 100 percent. Coaches have also said, however, Tyler has been the more consistent back.
Bradford maintained that he’s remaining focused and is not giving up on claiming the starting role. But when he talked about being passed up for the starting job, his head hung slightly and he was unable to hide the disappointment in his voice.
“I wasn’t as consistent in fall camp, so I’ve just got to bounce back,” Bradford said. “I’ve got to just be Allen Bradford and continue to fight.”
You cannot blame Bradford for being frustrated. It has not been an easy road for the fifth-year senior from San Bernardino, Calif.
He was recruited to USC as a safety in 2006 but soon moved to tailback. He saw the field quite a bit but not in the role he had imagined. His freshman year he spent some of the season at fullback to help out with depth issues.
The next two years were a bit of a blur. Bradford got lost in the shuffle, just another name among the stable of running backs that split time at the position under former coach Pete Carroll. In 2008, he had season-ending hip surgery.
Then the whispers began.
There was talk that he would transfer, that he was dissatisfied. Three years at USC and he had little to show for it: a couple of touchdowns maybe, but still a tenuous draft status.
Last season Bradford finally got his chance. It came in the middle of the season in the form of a 147-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oregon State, earning Bradford Pac-10 Player of the Week honors.
Bradford seemed to have finally received what he had sought all these years: recognition. The uphill portion of the journey seemed to be behind him.
He soon developed into the Trojans’ most reliable back. He ended up second on the team in total rushing yards with 668, just behind then-junior Joe McKnight.
Bradford started only one game, but with McKnight moving on to the NFL, he was primed to step into the starting role in his last chance at USC to make a name for himself.
And then he ran into the same obstacle that he had trouble overcoming previously in his career: injury.
Tyler, a close friend and former roommate of Bradford’s, will instead have the first crack at solidifying himself at USC. There is not the least hint of bad blood between the teammates, Bradford says. The tailback still regularly gives Tyler — who is a year younger — advice.
“I tell him the little things that he’s doing wrong,” Bradford said. “I tell him, ‘Just keep the ball up, and you got to go out there and pace yourself.’”
Bradford’s patience might need pacing as well. After already having endured so much adversity, the running back likely has much more ahead.
When he thinks of the competition he has faced, trying to assert himself in USC’s crowded backfield, he draws on words of wisdom from his father.
“My dad always told me that you compete with yourself,” Bradford said on usctrojans.com, USC’s official athletic website. “You can’t control what everybody else does, you can only control what you do.”
That’s why, when Bradford found out the news about Tyler, after calling his dad, he said he looked within himself.
“I looked at myself in the mirror because I know I’ve been through a lot, and it’s just another challenge that I have to embrace,” he said.
Looking back on Bradford’s history at USC, you want to believe that he’s going to break through at any moment, hit his stride and be the starting running back at USC and maybe move to the next level.
Whether that day ever becomes reality is uncertain. But one thing is for sure: Allen Bradford will continue to fight his never-ending battle against the man in the mirror.
“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at email@example.com.