Colton coaches remember when Allen Bradford made the varsity team as a freshman and a taunt or his own poor play could reduce him to tears.
The 6-foot-1, 223-pound senior -- who has explosive speed and makes explosive contact -- is considered among the top outside linebacker prospects in the nation and the top overall prospect in California.
"It helped Allen take a long look at the real world.... 'I'm not a baby anymore, I'm in a man's world,' " said Coach Harold Strauss of Bradford's hardship and awakening as a 14-year-old freshman. "He really grew up at that point. He became much more aggressive, much more mature, began to play much harder and with more confidence."
Strauss, who has been coaching for 24 years, saw Ronnie Lott play at Rialto Eisenhower and said Bradford reminds him of the prototypical NFL strong safety, the same position USC is considering for him.
"He is so physical, he punishes people," Strauss said. "I've never seen a kid as punishing when he tackles somebody, or when he runs the ball."
Bradford is part of Colton's misdirection, single- and double-wing offense. Not only do opposing defenses have to find Bradford in the backfield, but if they can catch him, they have to bring him down.
Last season, Bradford rushed for 1,525 yards -- averaging 8.7 yards a carry -- and 15 touchdowns, but that came while sharing the ball with Shareece Wright, a returning back who ran for 1,297 yards.
"He runs the ball on offense the way he likes to play defense, very physical," Strauss said. "He loves contact."
Bradford, who had 129 tackles and 11 sacks last season, was voted a team captain as a sophomore and again as a junior. But last season, he turned it down. He told Strauss "that's for seniors.... I want to be in the tunnel with the guys instead of going out for the toss."
Said Strauss: "That shows the kind of character he has. Even now, he wants one of the co-captains to go out for the coin toss. He's a real joy in today's society of athletes."
Bradford said he has narrowed his college choices to eight. He is considering five Pacific 10 Conference schools, including USC and UCLA, as well as Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The only trip he has scheduled is to Nebraska.
On Thursday, the first day since spring that colleges could contact recruits, Bradford received 12 phone calls.
Strauss said that recruiters find Bradford to be humble, laid back and quiet. They inevitably ask the same question: What gets this kid excited?
"Put a helmet on him," Strauss always answers. "He turns into all business. He's more vocal. He turns into a freak and plays with as much intensity as anybody I've ever seen. But after the game he'll be as humble and mellow as anyone you'll ever meet.
"I've had coaches tell me they're mesmerized by watching him for 25-30 minutes, just him hitting people. He plays hard, practices hard, lifts hard. Everything he does is with a purpose."
A purpose that is clearly defined.
"I feel I was born to play football," Bradford said, "so I work as hard as possible and do anything to achieve my goal, which is to go to the pros.
"I want to be a player that you remember."
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High school football preview
A look at the top linebackers in the Southland:
*--* Rk Player, School Ht. Wt. Yr. Comment 1. Mark Johnson, 6-3 230 Sr. Culver City transfer with Dorsey big-time skills 2. Malcolm Smith, 6-1 205 Jr. Keeps getting faster and Taft stronger 3. Mike Lutu, 6-2 218 Sr. Aggressive, dependable tackler Carson 4. Marc Alanis, 6-1 215 Sr. Middle linebacker who doesn't Sylmar budge 5. DeVohn Moutra, 6-0 235 Sr. Big, tough and mean Gardena 6. Kristian 6-1 230 Sr. Headed for All-City season Anderson, Fairfax 7. Rashad Newsome, 6-0 230 Sr. Had nine sacks Jordan 8. Robert Mullins, 6-1 205 Jr. Has speed and talent Dorsey 9. Chris Lewis, 5-11 185 Sr. Likes to pile up the sacks Venice 10. Anthony Evans, 5-9 190 Sr. Tough to block because of Taft quickness 11. Juan Hernandez, 6-1 215 Sr. Makes lots of tackles Chatsworth 12. Larry Looney, 6-0 205 Sr. Valley Mission League standout Reseda