December 29, 2012 11:04:27 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
His own coach will tell anybody he can find that Dylan Bradley is one of the best defensive players in the state. Bradley himself feels like he's been disrespected because no one outside the Noxubee County High School field house seems to feel the same way.
Publications refused to give him preseason honors, Southeastern Conference coaches won't offer him a scholarship because they think he's too small and slow.
The 2012 season was Bradley's audition to present his alternative case to the masses that he was good enough for them and everybody else.
Bradley decided this fall that he simply wouldn't let the doubters have the last say on his high school career.
"The only thing I have to do is put the effort in," Bradley said in August. "That is what I am showing them. You can put the game on my shoulders and I am going to give you 100 percent every time. Every time that ball moves I am out there."
This fall Bradley was the defensive weapon for the Tigers' remarkable 16-0 season that led to a Mississippi High School Athletic Association Class 4A championship. The senior defensive end accounted for 21.5 sacks including a combined eight against Starkville and West Point High School combined. For his numbers on the field and leadership off it, Bradley was named The Dispatch's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year for Large Schools.
"Tonight wasn't an individual thing for me or anybody else," Bradley said after a 29-8 domination of then Class 5A North State champion Starkville. "What happened tonight was I helped my team on the path to 16-0. If other people like what they saw from me tonight, great but that's not the goal anymore."
While it might not have been the objective during the season, Bradley grew a fan base with his peers as Starkville High quarterback and Mississippi State University verbal commitment Gabe Myles walked up to the 255-pound prospect and said he hadn't seen a better pass rusher in the entire state of Mississippi.
"After the game, Gabe told me that I gave him some problems back there," Bradley said. "He wasn't able to stand there in the pocket and do anything with comfort."
Opposing high school coaches weren't shy about praising Bradley as well as Starkville's Jamie Mitchell, who watch Bradley sack Myles four times at Yellow Jackets Stadium in August, said he was the first selections for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game played in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 15.
"There's little doubt in my mind he's the best defensive player in the state," Mitchell said. "He is as dominating as it gets for the best defensive team we saw all season, period."
It's the talent evaluators at the next level that look at his 6-foot-2 frame and simply can't get past the dreaded "tweener" comment argument, meaning he's too short to play defensive end and too slow to play linebacker. Bradley simply brushed the concerns of the transition early in the year as something he's not at all worried about - he's already proved doubters wrong before.
"I'm going to play that way every game I promise you because I was left off the Dandy Dozen list," Bradley said after the win over Starkville in the season opener. "I don't know why I was left off and to be honest, I don't care. All I want to do now is prove I'm the best at my position in this state."
Bradley started the season being left off the Dandy Dozen players list, which consists of the top 12 players in the state, by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper and was noticeably upset at that decision.
"I remembered looking at the list and just being shocked that he wasn't on it," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "Nobody around us could believe it and it seemed like a mistake, like they'd forgot him or something. Then I started getting calls from other coaches saying 'Did you see this?' and I'd respond with "yeah, but I don't believe it'."
The Noxubee County defensive staff had Bradley in a variety of roles this past fall simply because they knew No. 94 for the Tigers would be double teamed from the first play on.
"Our whole goal with Dylan this season was to make sure he was just as good with his hand in the ground as he was standing up," Shorter said. "We tried to move him around on every play to make sure the quarterback couldn't find him."
Bradley attended Mississippi State's summer camp and has scholarship offers from the University of Memphis, Arkansas State University, Jackson State University and Alcorn State University. A selection for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game in Montgomery, Ala., says he'll make his decision close to signing day in February.
"Here's the deal on Dylan, I really believe some of the bigger programs are going to come calling late in the process because there's just too much talent to ignore," Shorter said. "When they do, they'll realize what everybody else did - that he's a great football player and a great person to coach. I can't wait to see a young man like that get a great college education because of the hard work he put into being on our team."
Shorter believes "there's no doubt" Bradley is the best Noxubee County defensive player to put on the red, white and blue Tigers uniform in the 14 seasons he has been on the sidelines in Macon.
"He was just always around the football and I've never seen a kid play with such an incredible motor and passion for the game of football," Shorter said. "I'll say it like this, if college coaches aren't sure Dylan Bradley is for them then I'm just not sure anybody can play high-level college football."