You can take Ivory Bradshaw out of football, but you can't take football out of Ivory Bradshaw.
Football hasn't always been good to the former Bastrop Ram as his college football career at Southern Mississippi was derailed by two knee surgeries. Injuries haven't been the only obstacle. His first experience with pro football ended before it even started when his team folded.
Still, Bradshaw refused to believe his career was over. Continuing to train while working at Graphic Packaging in West Monroe, the opportunity to give football one more try proved to be an overwhelming temptation.
Bradshaw worked his final shift at Graphic Packaging on March 21, and attended a Canadian Football League tryout on Sunday, March 25. Although the CFL didn't pan out, he received a phone call from Mike Steinmeier, head coach of the Indoor Football League's Reading (Pa.) Express offering a contract.
Steinmeyer's call wasn't unexpected. Nick Dean, a former All-Conference USA offensive lineman at Southern Miss who now plays for the Express, recommended Bradshaw to his current team.
“Nick told me (the Express) were going to call,” said Bradshaw, who played safety and cornerback during Monday's workout.
Leaving Bastrop on Friday, he drove to Pennsylvania and practiced with the Express for the first time Monday afternoon. He will make his debut Saturday night when the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks visit the Express on Saturday night.
After a whirlwind week, Bradshaw was glad to get back to what he likes best — playing ball.
“It went pretty well,” Bradshaw said of his first practice with the Express. “Arena ball is a lot different than traditional football. It's faster, but it's still football. It was great to get back on the field and move around.”
Bradshaw's playing time has been limited since graduating from Bastrop High in 2004. Redshirted as a true freshman, he converted to the secondary as a sophomore. He missed his entire junior season after the first knee injury and reinjured the knee again in the spring.
While the injuries impeded his progress up the depth chart, Bradshaw became a mainstay on the Golden Eagles' special teams.
Bradshaw realizes his minimal playing time in college is working against him. On the other hand, his body hasn't taken the physical abuse of most football players his age.
“That may be a good thing,” said Bradshaw on the lack of experience. “I don't have all the wear and tear and my knee is fine now. Of course, the disadvantage I have is my limited experience.”
Upon graduating from Southern Miss with a degree in human resources management and marketing, Bradshaw returned to Bastrop High as the Rams' wide receivers coach for the 2009 season.
Page 2 of 3 - His first taste of arena football proved to be one of those experiences that you laugh about later, although it isn't funny at the time.
Bradshaw made the team with the Lafayette Wildcatters of the Southern Indoor Football League last spring. Two weeks before the season started, Bradshaw had seen enough and moved back to Bastrop. It proved to be a wise move as the team folded without playing a game.
This time, Bradshaw appears to have hooked up with a league and franchise on solid ground. The Express originally played in the United Indoor Football League, which was founded in 2004. In 2008, the UIFL merged with the Texas-based Intense Football League, forming the IFL. Currently, the league consists of 16 teams, split equally into two divisions.
While excited to be playing football again, Bradshaw hasn't lost sight of his long-term vision.
“Other than trying to play football — which I love with all my heart — I want to make it so I can take care of my kids and leave them something when I'm gone,” Bradshaw said. “Also, I really want to open a training center in Bastrop — if not in Bastrop, somewhere close — to give the kids in this community something I didn't have. I had a lot of athletic ability, but I didn't have anyone to teach me the skill set. I believe I would be playing in the NFL today had I had someone to teach me to play the game the right way at a young age.”
When his playing days are over, Bradshaw plans to teach local youth the finer points of the game.?
“There are a lot of kids around here who have the athletic ability, but they need someone to teach them the little things,” said Bradshaw, who played basketball and competed in track in addition to playing football at Bastrop. “Not only do they need someone to teach them the proper football techniques, they need someone to teach them about responsibility and making good grades. I want to be that role model who can help them. We need someone to teach our kids to battle through the hard times, to keep fighting and never give up.”
Former Bastrop High Parade All-American and LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle could be a first-round draft in the upcoming NFL draft. It saddens Bradshaw to know that for every Rueben Randle, there are several youngsters with NFL ability who fall by the wayside.
“I really think Rueben deserves to be a first-round pick,” Bradshaw said. “I want to see more first and second-round picks coming out of Bastrop. I realize that only a select few make it to the NFL. What I want to do is teach them the little things that college scouts are looking for. If I can teach them the little things, at least I can help them get a better education and help them make a better living for themselves.”
Page 3 of 3 - Bradshaw understands all too well that playing football is temporary. Using football as a vehicle to help others is truly a noble ambition. Ultimatley, football is the vehicle he hopes to use to help others.