It was a classic sports metaphor unfolding right before my eyes:
Senior tailback Allen Bradford, sitting at third on the USC depth chart, gets his number called from the sideline during the Trojans’ game in Minnesota Saturday.
Until recently, this wasn’t a rare occurrence for Bradford, who helped lead USC with 668 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009 as the bruiser in the Trojan stable of running backs. But yet another injury (this time to his knee) just a few months into fall practice left him stalled while redshirt junior Marc Tyler and freshman Dillon Baxter took over at the lead rushing positions and effectively put Bradford on the back burner.
Unfazed, Bradford crouches in a pre-snap position, standing behind a squad of tackle-hungry defenders and a team of guys that will fight tooth and nail to help him accomplish his goal.
In light of another setback and his relegation to third-string, Bradford could’ve given up everything he had worked for in an instant and no one would have blamed him. After all, this has come to be expected in upper-level sports.
But not only did Bradford refuse to sit back and accept his fate, he began to push himself harder than ever to make up for time lost, continually giving his full effort in practice while maintaining a respectful air about the situation off the field.
The ball is snapped, handed to Bradford and bodies start to move in all directions. His first path, through a hole in the line, leads him into a cluster of defenders that swallows any chance of breaking free. A slight juke lands him a little more breathing room, but again the walls are closing in on him.
As seen in previous seasons, Bradford’s resolve to get back on the field and regain his playing time was there, and coaches and teammates alike frequently noted his efforts. But having to prove yourself over and over can wear a person down, especially when you already had a taste of what was at the top of the depth-chart ladder.
But Bradford does not stop, and finally a slight shuffle and a change of direction across the field land him with open air and room to progress. His strides do not tire, but rather increase in speed with the more ground he covers. He blows by the initial wave of defenders, and his momentum leaves the secondary chasing his backside.
Even up until the third quarter Saturday, it remained to be seen if Bradford would return to carry the ball with any frequency, let alone as the featured back. But not one to write off someone who’s down-and-out, USC coach Lane Kiffin gave him the opportunity to earn his spot back, just like he himself is trying to do as the head of USC football.
And in true Bradford fashion, No. 21 didn’t waste any time in doing so.
All that’s left for him is the goal line to cross, and as he does so he raises his arms in the air — perhaps to celebrate, to signal a touchdown, or simply just announce that he, the same Allen Bradford that has been nagged for so long by injuries and unfortunate events, is back.
His 56-yard touchdown run in USC’s 32-21 victory over host Minnesota was the highlight of a 12-carry, 131-yard and one-score day for the tailback, who has seen anything but open pastures throughout the last three months.
Whether his performance lands him back in the starting role or not, Bradford has once again proved himself to be a physical manifestation of the Trojan motto “Fight On.”
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