While his freshman and sophomore highlight tapes have started making the rounds on Rivals.com message boards, class of 2007 running back Bradley Stephens of McAllen Memorial High School in Texas is being recognized as a special talent. If you just watch a tape, though, then you are missing the whole story of what makes the electric ballplayer truly a unique individual.
An even-tempered young man with a genuine "aw-shucks" demeanor, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Stephens has a full offering of talents. Before this year, he was a prominent soccer star in his home state of Texas, earning an invitation to play on the 18-man Olympic Development Team that covers an 11-state region. But Stephens decided to sacrifice a promising future in soccer in order to improve himself in two other sports he excels in.
"This was no small decision for him to give up soccer," noted Craig Stephens, his father. "He decided this year to stop playing soccer and just concentrate on football and track."
Over ten years of training and development down the drain probably struck a few people in the soccer community as strange, but Stephens had different goals in mind; goals that involve college football and getting a degree.
In his freshman season for McAllen, Stephens burst onto the scene with 1,176 yards on 123 carries, 23 receptions for 376 yards and 16 total touchdowns. There was something more about Stephens, though. Something about the way he could make defenders look silly as they grasped for air, following a quick stutter step or change of direction, or feel comfortable in their angles of pursuit before realizing they had underestimated the young man's speed. Stephens had the ability that college coaches dream of at night.
"I've had a lot of people say I have vision like Barry Sanders and he is my role model in terms of style of running. I always watched film of him and I've always enjoyed watching him run," Stephens remarked. "I guess some people were saying I kind of run like Adrian Peterson too."
His sensational freshman season was followed up this past fall by a 1,645-yard rushing (8.6 avg.), 476 yards (22-yard avg.) and 21 total touchdown campaign that earned him all-district and all-Bay Area accolades for the second year in a row. The soccer background also helped his team as he was the main punter and averaged 35 yards per punt.
Although just a sophomore, the recruiting process is into full gear as Stephens says he is receiving heavy attention from schools like Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Iowa State already. His 4.0 GPA has been beneficial in giving schools the confidence he will be a full qualifier. There are other numbers that get them really excited, however, specifically his 4.46-second 40-yard dash speed and 545-pound squat.
Still, Stephens is more than stats on a piece of paper. There is more to his makeup than simply football or sports. He would rather be known for the person he is and the faith he represents.
"My main thing is: playing football is good and everything, but you have to have a reason to play and I play for God," Stephens commented. "When I'm on the football field that is my sanctuary. I put God first and I have a real strong faith. That's the biggest thing that I want people to know about me"
After scoring a touchdown, Stephens takes a knee and points to the sky - a symbol he says to let those watching him know who he gives credit to for his abilities. Off the field, he is the vice president of his school's chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and will likely move into the role of president next fall. At McAllen Memorial, 30-45 athletes attend FCA meetings every Friday morning and also get together for "huddles" at different times during the month.
It appears Stephens will certainly have a large stage to share his message. The attention from colleges already makes it obvious there will be major jockeying for his signature between now and Signing Day of 2007.
"It's really interesting. It's my sophomore year and I am kind of taken aback by all the letters I've gotten," Stephens remarked. "I was flattered to know that they were looking at me already. It gets me motivated because I still have two more years and there's a lot of improving to do."
That improvement is taking place in the weight room and on the track now that it is the offseason. Stephens is at school every morning at 6:30 to lift weights and does his track workouts after school. As a freshman last spring, he posted personal bests of 49.86 seconds in the 400 meters and 10.8 seconds in the 100 meters.
The only question left is where will Stephens spend his collegiate days? McAllen is in the south portion of Texas, near the Mexican Border, but Stephens has a national perspective when it comes to recruiting. He grew up in the Chicagoland area of Illinois until he was ten years old, so moving to another part of the country or adapting to new surroundings is not a concern of his.
"I remember when I grew up in Illinois I used to like watching Michigan, Notre Dame, Northwestern and all the Big Ten schools," Stephens said. "Down here I like to follow a lot of the Big 12 now."