Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Sports

RB Bradley puts spotlight on Central's backfield once again

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BROOKSVILLE — Thirty-seven days after Central's 2012 regular-season finale, a 63-7 loss to Sunlake, former Central running back DuJuan Harris scored his first NFL touchdown in his season debut with the Green Bay Packers.

One of the millions of viewers who saw the touchdown live on national television was current Bears tailback Robbie Bradley. He could not have known that 10 months later he would be on pace after four games to be the first to surpass 1,000 yards rushing since "Foxx" wore the Central silver and blue.

"It would mean so much to me," Bradley said. "(Harris) was an idol to me and an inspiration to me on and off the field."

Bradley struggled with injuries last season and was limited to seven games. Fourth-year Bears coach Mike Einspahr had been raving about Bradley's work ethic since his sophomore season, but with an undersized frame and lack of talent around him, it was difficult to find a place for him to thrive.

"This is first season since I've gotten here that we've had set guys for set positions," Einspahr said. "Continuity has always been a problem. Robbie is a big reason why that's changed."

Bradley (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) decided there would be no more excuses for his senior campaign. During the offseason he hit the weight room, and he hit it hard, gaining 20 pounds of muscle. One year after totaling 134 yards on 39 carries with no touchdowns, he is up to a North Suncoast-leading 587 yards with three touchdowns.

The team's leading rusher last season? Quarterback Cole Teater with 548 yards. Central's leader on the ground in 2011 was Andrew Arevalo with 195 yards.

Offense is only one aspect of Bradley's skill set that has shined. Einspahr has called on him to be the Bears' placekicker, and he has answered by making two extra points and a 21-yard field goal.

Harris last suited up for Central in 2006, the last season any fans at the Bears Den had the privilege of seeing a playoff team, district title or 1,000-yard rusher. If everything continues the way it has, one of those could change before the season is over.

"The funny thing is that Robbie wore (Harris's old) No. 20 before we (Central) retired it last season," Einspahr said. "I don't want to put that kind of pressure or comparison on him, but I still don't think he realizes how good he can be."

A lot was different in Brooksville seven years ago. Harris, a shifty 5-foot-7 tailback who ran low to the ground and was difficult to tackle even then, was a far better natural athlete than Bradley. But with a winless Central team around him, what Bradley is doing now may be just as impressive.

Harris gained 1,641 yards and scored 17 rushing touchdowns season. His current counterpart is on pace for 1,467. Considering he has been breaking tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage on almost every carry, it is an amazing number.

The total will likely tail off after tonight's game against state power South Sumter, but expect Bradley to work hard because that is what got him here.

"In previous years I wasn't as focused," he said, "but I got serious about football for my senior season, and I am thinking positive now."

Derek J. LaRiviere can be reached on Twitter @DerekJLaRiviere.

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