He seemed to have about everything a 26-year-old guy could want.
Loyd Bradley Jr.’s plate was full.
• He’d graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he’d also played football.
• He was now stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and was working on his master’s degree in cost analysis at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) there.
• Next spring he’s scheduled for reassignment to Washington, D.C., where he’ll work at the Pentagon or Andrews Air Force Base.
• He and three other airmen from the Academy own a real estate company – Diversity Ltd. LLC – whose holdings he said now include a small strip mall and an apartment building in Colorado, a couple of houses in Atlanta, another in St. Louis and a fourplex in Huber Heights.
But then came the day late last February when Bradley said he had a realization:
“Everything was going well, but I woke up one morning and it was like, ‘I’m missing something.’ I didn’t know what it was at first, but then it came to me. I wanted to get back to coaching.”
After he had come out of the Academy, he was sent to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, worked in the budget affairs office and took a volunteer job coaching track and field at Grace Christian School.
“I loved coaching,” he said. “One of the most rewarding things was working with a girl who had never played any sports before. I taught her to hurdle and she made into the state finals.”
That day last February he was considering some high schools around here when he got a call from his older brother, Christopher Buckner, who coaches wide receivers at Arkansas State.
“He said I ought to consider some colleges here and suggested Central State,” Bradley said.
The idea of CSU, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), interested him.
His brother had coached at three HBCUs — Jackson State, Savannah State and North Carolina Central — and his dad had gone to Mississippi Valley State.
“I went to Central State’s website and read the bios and saw both Coach Pearl (head coach Cedric Pearl) and Coach Ferg (running backs coach Ferguson Johnson) were both Omegas,” he said referring to the national fraternity Omega Psi Phi. “I’m an Omega, too.
“And I’m not making this up. That very evening – but not connected to any of this – I’d planned to go to an Omega (alumni) meeting in Dayton. Five minutes after I got there, Ferg walks in. I’d never met him, but I’d seen his photo on the website and I’m thinking ‘Is that the coach at Central State?’
“I got my phone out, got his picture up and literally compare it to the guy’s face. And I realized, ‘That’s him!’
“After the meeting I went up and said ‘Bro, you’re not gonna believe this story!’ I told him and asked if he could put me in contact with Coach Pearl.
“He called him right then and a week later they brought me in for an interview. Soon after that they called back and said, ‘We’d be glad to have you.’”
From Texas to Air Force Academy
Bradley grew up in Arlington, Texas and played football at Mansfield Summit High School.
“Texas football is huge,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle.
“The Friday Night Lights deal is the real thing. The team featured in it – Odessa Midland– we played against them in a high school playoff game at their stadium. It was just like in the movie. The quarterback still wore No. 20. The city still shut down that day.”
Although he was a talented prep player, Bradley was just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds and hadn’t gotten all the college offers he wanted when the Air Force Academy came calling.
“My dad said, ‘You might want to check that out, it’s a very prestigious school,’” he said. “I had no intention of joining the military, but I took a visit and fell in love with the place.
“And because of my size I realized I probably wasn’t going to go pro so I needed to get the best education I could. And they gave me the opportunity to play D-I football, have everything paid for and have a guaranteed job when I graduated.”
He played special teams his first two seasons and then – after a pair of shoulder surgeries – gave up football before his senior season.
“But I’d learned the game,” he said. “Being 5-8, you’ve got to know what’s going on out there because you can’t just rely on physical ability.”
Pearl said Bradley learned his lessons well:
“I know he’s in the Air Force working on his masters, but he’d be an excellent coach if he decided that’s what he wants to do one day.”
Bradley is part of an overhaul of staff and players CSU has made this year in an attempt to revive a program whose last winning record was in 1995, when the Marauders went 10-1 and won the NAIA national title, their third in six years.
Following the 1996 season the program was disbanded for eight years and since its rebirth, the Marauders have gone 29-95 and are coming off two straight 1-9 campaigns.
This season Bradley, a volunteer who handles the defensive secondary, is one of three new coaches. Pearl said the team also has some 20 new freshmen and transfers.
“These guys were so close to winning so many games last season,” Bradley said. “They felt enough pain last year. They don’t want any more of it. You can feel it, you can see it, you can hear it. They’re hungry to win.”
‘A way to give back’
Being in the Air Force, getting his masters and now coaching two-a days is no easy task for Bradley.
“Whenever we have downtime here, I’m doing homework,” he said with a laugh as he sat in an office in McPherson Stadium during a break between sessions the other day. “In fact, last weekend I wrote part of my thesis in this very office.”
Bradley said he volunteers at CSU for several reasons:
“This gives me good balance. I get to do my nerdy things with numbers, but who likes to look at numbers all day long? That can be exhausting. This is a great release.
“And it’s a way to give back, too. It’s a good opportunity as a young male to be a good influence on these players. I just turned 27 and might be just six years older than some of them. We have a lot in common. We listen to the same music, enjoy the same type of things.
“So I’ve got a coach’s role and a big brother role, too.
“I’m able to talk to them offline about things other than football – their struggles with life, whatever – and I think I’m able to show them the right way. I can show them things I learned going through the Academy.
“That makes this rewarding, too.”
So much so, that while he was talking about the future and his plans to one day be an investment banker, he suddenly grew quiet and amended his thoughts.
“Then again, I could see myself being a college coach, too.”
After all, he doesn’t want to miss something in life.