For most athletes, it’s the worst injury acronym they can think of: ACL.
That’s anterior cruciate ligament, as in the knee ligament Brock Bradford tore during a regular season basketball game on Jan. 26.
It’s an almost certain season-ender for any athlete — professional or amateur — unless your name is Brock Bradford.
A month after tearing his ACL, Bradford not only returned to the court, he returned to Husson University’s starting five to lead his team down the stretch and into the North Atlantic Conference tournament.
Although his collegiate career has likely ended somewhat prematurely after his fourth-seeded Eagles were upset by Green Mountain College at home in the NAC quarterfinals, Bradford has a lot to celebrate and take pride in this season, as well as his previous three.
“It’s been a great four years. I’ve enjoyed the great times I’ve had and can’t believe it’s gone by so fast,” said Bradford, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a masters in business this May.
The Kenduskeag native has not only crammed five years’ worth of school into four while also being a varsity member of the men’s basketball team, he has done so exceptionally well, as his recent selection as one of five people in the nation on the ESPN Academic All-American first team attests.
“It’s a cool accomplishment and I don’t know what to say about it,” said Bradford, the first Husson student-athlete to ever accomplish the feat. “It takes a lot of discipline to play at this level and balance everything else that’s going on.”
And Bradford has a lot of things going on.
The 22-year-old Bradford has been married to wife Shelby, a starter for the Husson women’s basketball team, since July of 2007. The couple have totally renovated the first floor of a house they bought and Bradford’s family owns and runs the Vacationland Inn hotel in Brewer.
“We help my parents run things and Shelby and I have been doing a lot of work on the house,” said Bradford, who has done carpentry work the last few summers and took a home improvement course at United Technologies Center in Bangor.
All that, and somehow Bradford has still found time to lead the Eagles in scoring (13.8 ppg), assists (4.3) and steals (2.2) this season and become Husson’s No. 14 all-time career scorer with 1,391 points and No. 2 free throw shooter (84 percent).
“Certainly it’s not a surprise that he achieved the level of success that he did,” said Husson head Coach Warren Caruso. “He made his way into the starting lineup in mid-January as a freshman and never missed a game until the tail end of his senior year.”
It took the ACL tear to get him out of the starting lineup. Not bad for a scrawny, 170-pound, 6-foot-1 kid out of Bangor Christian who looked like he had to run around in a shower just to get wet.
“Maybe some people looked over me because of my size, not knowing if I could handle the speed and size of college ball, but I was confident in my ability and work ethic,” he said.
“His size has never been a factor,” Caruso said. “I think the attribute that benefited us as much as anything on the court is his understanding of situations and being able to handle things on the court with a very calm demeanor.”
Bradford credits his court savvy and quickness for being able to make up for the athleticism and size possessed by opposing players.
“I think what I may lack in size and athletic ability I have been able to make up for in speed and trying to think one step ahead,” said Bradford.
After his ACL injury, Bradford said he had to start thinking two and three steps ahead. That he was even back on the court was nothing short of miraculous.
“We didn’t have expectations he would be able to rejoin us, but three weeks after, it became apparent it was a possibility,” Caruso said. “Still, we didn’t know til he got on the floor.”
“Really, it defied the odds for him to come back from that injury. I think it just speaks to who he is as an individual and person. Nothing surprises me with him anymore.”
Bradford credits faith, determination, hard work, and the help of Husson trainers Janine Gmitter and Darci Dickison for his comeback.
“I tore it on a Tuesday and was in the training room Wednesday starting rehab to get my leg stronger either for surgery or coming back. I figured I’d push myself as hard as I can and see what happens,” said Bradford, who was named to the NAC’s second team all-conference team. “I’ll have surgery after the season. It is com-pletely torn.”
Not that Bradford was planning on a pro basketball career, but even if the injury had prevented him from finishing his last season, he was prepared to accept that fact.
“It was one of those things that… It happens. It’s just part of life and sports and I’ve been blessed to play this many games in my career without another major injury,” he said. “People ask how I can be so calm with it, but it’s part of life and God has a plan even if I don’t know what it is.
“It came down to faith for me. As much as I love basketball, life’s a lot more than that.”