Clearing Stafford’s way


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Stafford’s John Bradshaw might be the type of guy to run an opponent into the ground, but he sure isn’t the type to make a big deal out of it.

“I’m pretty much shy and quiet,” he admitted as the Indians prepare for a Group AAA, Division 5 state semifinal game at Hopewell on Saturday. “But on the field, you can’t be shy and quiet anymore.”

The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Bradshaw plays loud. He’s the biggest starter on an offensive line that has helped blaze a trail for Stafford High School. Since the school first fielded a team in the 1950s, none had ever won a single playoff game. Now, 10-2 Stafford is just a game from a state final.

“It’s something never done by Stafford before,” said Bradshaw, reflecting on the accomplishment. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

Forward is the direction the Indians’ offensive line, which includes three all-Commonwealth District first-teamers and two second-teamers, has been moving all season. Center Robby Wickline and guards Chris Collins and Bradshaw are the first-team linemen that open the holes for Thomas McClelland, who is 111 yards from breaking Stonewall Jackson back Raymond Gee’s area rushing record of 2,281 yards, set in 11 games in 1996. In the same season, Brooke Point’s Daniel Davis rushed for 2,270 in 13 games.

But the numbers don’t seem to be what’s driving this group. Bradshaw says there’s nothing more fun than getting between the white lines for a football game, and no season has been as much fun this one.

Aside from two losses to county rival Colonial Forge, a playoff team, Stafford defeated perennial Commonwealth champion Culpeper twice, including 14-6 in the Northwest Region final last weekend. The Indians also smashed Halifax County 36-7 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Indians even played a regular-season game against Brooke Point on the Quantico Marine Base, during the height of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper crisis.

“Pretty much, due to all the events that happened, it was sad,” Bradshaw said. But he felt lucky to be able to play football at all during that time.

A starter since midway through his freshman year, Bradshaw says that the difference between this year’s team and previous ones isn’t that easy to pinpoint.

“I guess things just came together for us this year,” he said.

That’s especially true on the offensive line, where line coach John Pierce has helped mold an effective group. Head coach Roger Pierce agreed, saying it’s more than just Bradshaw that’s made that group great.

“I think it’s him along with the entire offensive line,” he said. “It’s a unit.”

Wickline, a 5-10, 242-pound senior, started as a freshman, but Roger Pierce said he broke his leg and only got back to playing this year. Collins, at 5-8, 195, is smaller than most offensive linemen, but Roger Pierce says “when it comes to blocking, he’s the animal.”

James Pruitt, a 6-3, 253-pound senior was a second-team all-district selection, as was Robert Thompson, the tight end in Stafford’s unbalanced formation. Justin McClelland, younger brother of Thomas, rounds out the line.

Thomas McClelland’s numbers prove how effective the offensive line has been. In no game has he rushed for fewer than 117 yards, and he’s been over 190 six times and over 200 three times, including twice in the playoffs. On top of that, Tim Sullivan, another Stafford running back, has rushed for 100 yards three times, all in games when McClelland has had 179 yards or more.

“I knew with the people we had coming back that we could have a good year,” Bradshaw said. “We had three or four people maybe, with experience. [Our success] is kind of a surprise, but I’ve been expecting us to do well.”

That attitude, in a nutshell, is what makes Bradshaw who he is. Already the size of most Division I prospects, Bradshaw probably would have done fine without getting bigger or stronger. Instead, he worked out as hard as anyone in the Stafford program.

“The biggest thing about him was that he came in the weight room and paid the price,” said Pierce. “Football players aren’t made in August, they’re made before August. As soon as this season is done, he’ll be working his butt off for next year. He never misses a workout.”

What’s more is Bradshaw doubles as a first-team all-district defensive tackle.

“He’s tremendous as a defensive tackle,” said Pierce. “At times he can be very dominating on the line of scrimmage.”

When Bradshaw controls the line or gets pressure on the quarterback, it can make it hard for a team to run its offense. Against Hopewell, who Pierce says may be better at throwing the ball than running it, Bradshaw can make a big difference.

The thing is, despite his shy demeanor and lineman-like lack of flashiness, he already has made a difference. Ask any young player in the Stafford program.

“[When people look back at this team], I just want them to remember that we started it,” Bradshaw said. “We’re trying to build a tradition.”

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