In my fifteen year tenure in the National Football League, my travels have taken me as far north as Maine, to the sunny state of Florida, east to Raleigh, and out west to Southern California. College scouts are assigned areas of the United States or regions. When hired by the Carolina Panthers in 1995, I was given the Southwest region (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North/South Dakota along with Wyoming and Colorado). While the great state of Texas is a region in and of itself, I spent a lot of my travels in and out of Oklahoma City.
I have scouted several outstanding players from the Sooner Nation over the years, but in 2007 it was a different experience. As I scouted the seniors on my prospect listing, I eye balled a few juniors as well. I couldn’t take my eyes off this young quarterback wearing #14. God forbid you ask about underclassmen – that is taboo and scouts have been run out of schools for less than that. I overheard the coach shout corrections to him, “Sam make your reads.” As he stood tall in the pocket, very poised and confident, the right armed QB started spinning the ball down field.
I created a “Futures Book” in 1996. My first entry was Ricky Williams from the University of Texas and years later was named the Heisman Trophy winner. I used the futures book to track outstanding performances and exceptional football players that are underclassmen. As I was leaving the field a Sooner Coach who I’ve known for over a decade, called out “Softli.” I spun around and answered “Yes.” He said “the kids name is Bradford”, my reply was “Who?” He said “Number 14 – his nickname is the Big Easy.”
Sam Bradford, the native from Oklahoma City, OK. An official citizen of the Cherokee Nation, he is one-sixteenth Cherokee His great-great grandmother Susie Walkingstick was full blooded Cherokee. Sam is the first person of Cherokee heritage to start at quarterback for a Division I university since my family friend and University of Washington Husky quarterback Sonny Sixkiller, a full blooded Cherokee, played from 1970-72.
Attending Putnam City High School, Sam was a three sport letter winner and received many accolades. All State in football as a senior, listed as the 12th best pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com a national recruiting service. Starred as a basketball player, and not to mention a scratch-golfer. He averaged 10.5 rebounds and 18.4 points a game as a senior. Strangely enough here are a few quarterbacks that were ranked ahead of him – Juice Williams (Illinois), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay), Matthew Stafford (Detroit), and Tim Tebow (Denver).
A redshirt year in 2006 prepared him for what was to come. In 2007, he started out on fire and that is how he finished his redshirt freshmen season, an All-American, setting several school records. Keep in mind there were a few good college quarterbacks that played in Boomer Soonerville prior to Sam, the likes of Josh Heupel and Jason White. These two players set the bar high, but this kid had something different about him.
Sam led the Sooners onto the field in 2008, and picked up where he left off the previous season. Spanking my amateur Washington Huskies with a performance (18 of 21 attempts 85.7%, for 304 yards and 5 touchdowns) with a back to back five touchdown performance of the young season. NFL General Managers, Coaches and Scouts stood up and took notice.
Like a captain of a ship, he was very much in control of the helm. His poise and confidence in the pocket was over whelming, along with the ever growing leadership, which flowed from within spreading to his teammates like the plague.
As the season progressed I made a second visit through Oklahoma City, not to gather Marriott points, but to take another peek at the underclassman, because of the redshirt year he was eligible to declare for the NFL draft (three years removed from high school is the rule), I started my report on the kid from Putnam City. While watching film, I was treated to the best Quarterback performance and production in the past fourteen years. Bradford ended the 2008 season with numbers that had not been seen in a long time. He threw for 4,720 yards (a school record), he became only the fourth quarterback in major college history to throw for 50 touchdowns in a season, joining Colt Brennan of Hawaii in 2006, David Klinger of Houston 1990 and BJ Symons of Texas Tech 2003.
Sam was the sixth best player in NCAA history to produce a passing efficiency rating over 180.0 in a season, with 180.4. His 67.91 passing completion percentage was impressive. Has displayed the ability to take the ball from under center as well as line up in the shot gun. He was only sacked nine times and led the Sooners to the national Championship game vs. Florida where they were defeated. That season the Sooners arguably had the most productive offense in the country. Sam threw for over 4, 000 yards and had not one, but two running backs that ran for 1, 000yards each.
I published my report on Sam Bradford, giving him the highest grade in my fifteen tenure for that position. My signature was on this young man and I felt extremely good. I checked his character like you do all draftees, I talked with several of my sources at OU, academic advisors, Coaches, Professors, Basketball sources, anyone that would talk, and I was listening. I couldn’t find one person with a negative comment, which drove me to dig even harder. The same thing kept coming out of everyone’s mouth, great person, no character issues, extremely grounded, laid back personality an FCA (Fellowship Christian Athlete) kid from a tight knit family, with outstanding parents. The nickname came up several times, you mean the “Big Easy”. Some might see him as low key personality, but as one source told me he is the most competitive s.o.b., and when on the field, hardwoods, or putting on the greens, you better watch out, because he takes no prisoners.
Two days after I entered my report in my computer sitting in a hotel room in Baton Rouge, LA, prior to an LSU practice. My cell phone rang. It was a coach from OU calling to say Sam is coming back. I was in disbelief – this kid will be the number one pick in the draft. Why?
Sam Bradford held his press conference, announcing his return to Sooner nation, along with a few other high sought after juniors that were all first round draft picks, for a chance to win the National Championship in 2009.
As you know, the rest is history. Sam injured his right shoulder with a third degree AC sprain, tearing ligaments on the throwing shoulder vs. BYU in the opener. Showing great toughness, he returned several weeks later vs. Texas and attempted to lead his team, but a second hit on the shoulder forced Sam to look at his future in the NFL. The second Native American to win the Heisman Trophy since Jim Plunkett in 1970, his collegiate career had come to an end. He became the first OU quarterback in school history to throw for over 8,000yards. He finished as the all-time leader in passing yards 8, 403, and third in school history for completions 604.
Sam had shoulder surgery, performed by the famous surgeon in Alabama, Dr. James Andrews. Sam didn’t perform at the yearly combine in Indianapolis, but attended for the physical and interview sessions by all 32 NFL clubs.
With a lot of talk of Jimmy Clausen circulating around Rams Park, a quarterback with a damaged throwing shoulder was certain to take a step back. While running draft meetings in St. Louis, I didn’t make the travel squad of coaches that accompanied the General Manager to Oklahoma City to attend Sam’s first workout after his surgery and rehabbing sessions.
I submitted another report with a slightly lower overall grade, due to the injury. After watching the workout on tape, it was evident that the boy from Putnam City was back and throwing with velocity and the accuracy was still intact. A pure passer that is articulate, intelligent, competitive, poised with confidence and leadership qualities to run a top 500 corporation. He is the best quarterback I’ve seen, and I would have drafted him over Sanchez and Stafford in 2009, and over Ryan and Flacco in 2008. Not only is he a special talent, he is a remarkable person. St. Louis is extremely lucky to have the Big Easy in St Louis, both the person and football player.