Upon arriving in Tempe in the fall of 2010, Carl Bradford had very few expectations for himself; only that he needed to learn a new position in order to be successful playing football at the college level. Despite being rated as one of the premiere fullbacks in the country as a senior in high school, former Arizona State Head Coach Dennis Erickson saw a player with all the natural ability and tools to be a dynamic defensive playmaker for the Sun Devils.
But like any player learning to play a new position, the learning curve was steep for Bradford and the progress was gradual. After redshirting as a freshman, he began the 2011 season as a back-up linebacker before eventually being moved to defensive end, neither of which he had much luck at mastering.
"It's definitely been a long journey," said Bradford on Sunday after the team's practice. "When I got here, I didn't know how to read offenses, I didn't know how to drop at linebacker; nothing. I put my hand in the dirt at defensive end there for a while but when Coach Graham came in and put me at the Devil backer position, I just took it to another level."
Bradford started the 2012 season off slowly as he adjusted to his new role on defense. In his team's season opener against Northern Arizona, he recorded just one tackle, but it didn't take long for him to embrace his new position.
Bradford finished the season with 81 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks, going from a player without a true position to one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players virtually overnight.
"The Devil backer just fit my personality," he said. "It fit my physical ability, so I just ran with it. I started to develop myself after that. I trained with Coach Griswold in the offseason, studied in the film room, and really got to know the position inside and out."
Bradford entered the 2013 season on a number of national award watch lists - including the Butkus and Bednarik awards, and the Nagurski trophy - and with some lofty goals for himself. Through 13 games, he's tallied 55 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Bradford also recorded one interception that he returned for his first career touchdown in the team's Pac-12 South division-clinching win over UCLA in Pasadena, a homecoming for the Norco, CA native.
"I think I did pretty well this year but I'm not where I want to be," he admitted. "I kind of had a successful season."
While Bradford was unable to bring home the national hardware this season, he was named to the Pac-12's All-Defense Second Team and was presented with the team's Curley Culp Outstanding Defensive Lineman Award at the Arizona State Football Banquet on Saturday night.
"I think it's nice recognition," he said of the awards. "It's always nice to have people recognize you like that and to know that your hard work and effort don't go unnoticed, so it's a blessing."
Unfortunately for Bradford and the Sun Devils, the team fell just short of achieving their ultimate team goal of winning the program's first outright conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl since 1996-97. Despite that though, Bradford insists there's still plenty to play for when Arizona State (10-3) faces Texas Tech (7-5) in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on December 30th.
With a win, the Sun Devils can notch their first 11-win season in 17 years, which is all the motivation that Bradford needs as the team begins its bowl preparation.
"When we lost the Pac-12 Championship Game, we were a little down on ourselves because we aren't going to the Rose Bowl," he said. "But I look at the bright side of it. We're playing the best football here in a while and to have a chance to get that 11th win in a great Holiday Bowl game, is amazing. And our guys are starting to realize that too. We had a successful season and to go get this 11th win for the first time since '96 is a big deal.
"It feels amazing to create a new legacy here under Coach Graham. I feel honored to be a part of it and to set the bar for the Devil backer position. It's amazing to look back the last couple of years and know that the 2012 and 2013 teams are what helped sparked this program and really started developing a championship team and winning seasons, so I feel honored."
Of course, the question that all Sun Devil fans want to know, is whether Bradford, who is set to graduate on December 18th with a degree in Criminal Justice, will be back to help the Sun Devils take that next step in 2014.
"To be continued," he said with a grin and a laugh. "I honestly haven't given it any thought. I've just got to talk it over with my family and pray on it. I know God has a great plan for me, so whatever direction I go in, I know I'll be successful."