Editor’s note: This is the third installment of an ongoing series following the recruitment of potential NCAA Division I football student-athlete and Damascus High School junior Zach Bradshaw.
by Kent Zakour
As junior Zach Bradshaw walked through a hallway at Damascus High School after classes last week, a female friend ran after him with a thick stack of mail.
“Wait!” she said. “Don’t forget these.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound wide receiver/linebacker stopped, turned around, smiled and thanked her for handful of letters addressed to him from various NCAA Division I college football programs, most of which are in Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conferences. Some of the mail consisted of generic recruiting questionnaires, while several others were hand-written, personalized notes.
“It never stops,” said Bradshaw as he showed a cell phone picture of nine hand-written letters from South Carolina. “Sometimes I get 50 in one day. It is cool, but kind of overwhelming. The key is to figure out who is genuinely interested and go from there.”
Bradshaw, the Swarmin’ Hornets’ best player, is a legitimate high-level college football recruit. He has verbal scholarship offers from schools in the Southeastern Conference (South Carolina), Big Ten (Northwestern), Atlantic Coast Conference (Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia) and Big East (West Virginia, Rutgers).
“Three are [recruiting] for receiver and the other seven are either for defense or they don’t know yet and are recruiting me as an athlete,” Bradshaw said. “South Carolina is recruiting me as a wide receiver, but the tape shows I can play multiple positions. If wide receiver for some reason doesn’t work out, I can go to defense and play linebacker or strong safety or an H-back. There’s a lot of different things they are telling me I can do at the college level.”
This fall, Bradshaw helped the Hornets to a 9-3 record and a berth in the Class 3A West Region championship game. As the team’s primary offensive threat, he led the Hornets in receiving with 28 receptions for 395 yards and six touchdowns and rushed 31 times for 250 yards and two scores. The versatile athlete also had a strong defensive season at outside linebacker and returned two punts for touchdowns.
In a more diverse passing attack a year ago with All-Gazette first team quarterback Connor Frazier, Bradshaw put up slightly better receiving statistics (28 receptions, 401 yards, 7 TD). But by all accounts around the program, his route running was more precise and he had a much better season this fall.
“Coming into the season, we knew he had all the physical ability in the world,” Hornets wide receiver coach Gregg Frazier said. “But the two biggest things we talked about were to build on his ability to be a leader and to be a dominating player. I believe he excelled at both. … He’s as good of an all-around players as it gets.”
Added Bradshaw: “We were one game away from what we were last year. Obviously, no one’s season is going to end happily unless you’re a state champion, and there are only four of those.”
Against Albert Einstein on Sept. 23, the Hornets trailed 21-7 at halftime. Needing a spark, the Damascus coaching staff debuted its “Moses” package, more commonly known by football fans as the Wildcat formation, which featured Bradshaw lining up in the backfield and taking direct snaps. He rushed for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 13 carries to spark a 33-27 comeback victory.
“We didn’t really throw as much as we did last year,” Bradshaw said. “But the coaches did a great job finding ways to get me involved on special teams and in the running game. I enjoyed [Moses] because I like having the ball in my hands. I would of liked to do that a little bit more than what we did. … But I was going both ways.”
Offseason conditioning and weightlifting began at Damascus on Nov. 28, and Bradshaw has a busy winter ahead. He opted not to play basketball so he can focus exclusively on academics and football recruiting and training. He also is recovering from minor nonsurgical injuries to the meniscus and medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Bradshaw, who went on unofficial visits to South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Maryland and West Virginia during the season, said he plans to visit other colleges and practices over the next month. He credits his family and Gregg Frazier for providing guidance.
“We are all figuring this out as we go,” said Mike Bradshaw, his father. “Obviously, we’ve never done anything like this before, so we just want to be here to help him with any questions and support him with whatever he decides.”
Added Frazier: “The main priority right now is still to just get in contact with as many options as possible for Zach. I am a relationship facilitator for him to get in contact with coaches. … Once he gets to all the places he wants to go, I’ll sit down with him, his family, [head coach Eric] Wallich and discuss all the pluses and minuses about a particular school and a plan of attack.”
Bradshaw has no timeline on when he will make a decision, but said he hopes to know “well before” signing day in February 2013.
His offseason training will be geared toward gaining weight and maintaining his 4.6-second 40-yard dash speed. Bradshaw started the fall at 205 pounds and tips the scale in the upper 190s. He hopes to add several pounds of muscle and reach 220 pounds by August.
In the spring, he will work again with Patrick “Sarge” Avon and Sarge Athletics. Avon is a Navy veteran who trains several high school athletes and teams in Northwestern Montgomery County and Frederick County. Avon emphasizes unique stabilization, power, speed and agility drills with Bradshaw.
“It’s crazy with some of the things we do,” Bradshaw said. “We use fire hoses and medicine balls and a lot of other stuff you wouldn’t normally think of. Whatever Sarge does to me is tough, but it definitely works.”
Added Avon: “Zach’s as aggressive as they come. He gives everything he’s got.”