As Garrett Bradbury led the Charlotte Christian football team onto the field for the Knights’ dominating state championship victory this fall, he said it was the most bittersweet moment he’s felt in his decorated athletic career.
Bradbury had broken his ankle three games earlier, but was so respected by his teammates and coaches, that he was the first Knight to come through the tunnel and onto the field – in his jersey, but walking on crutches.
“That was one of the best moments ever,” Bradbury said. “At the same time, that was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. That’s what you work for, especially in your senior year. You work all summer long, work in all of those August practices to get to the championship game. It was the worst to not play in the game, but that’s when you turn to your teammates and they came through.”
Bradbury watched from the sidelines as the Knights capped off an undefeated season with a 48-10 thrashing of Charlotte Latin, earning their second consecutive N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association title, the first back-to-back crowns in school history.
“Even though it wasn’t an issue for us, it would have been great to see him go out and compete in the championship because he was a complete monster on the field,” said football coach Jason Estep. “We knew he was going to be good – I knew it when I first saw him play in middle school that he’d be good. And then when you get to know him, he’s a competitor and he’s going to go down swinging and that’s what he did for us the whole time we had him.”
While Bradbury is a standout on the football field – the N.C. State commit and tight end/defensive end caught 17 passes for 360 yards and six touchdowns on offense and made 67 tackles with five sacks on defense, earning the National Christian Schools Athletic Association’s Defensive Player of the Year award for the entire United States – he’s also a standout catcher on the Knights’ baseball
“Everyone says he’s a heck of a football player – and he is – but I’ve got to tell you he’s a pretty doggone good baseball player, too,” said Knights’ baseball coach Greg Simmons. “There’s no question in my mind that he could play baseball at the next level – not a question in my mind he’d be good.”
While recovering from his ankle injury, Bradbury slowly worked himself into baseball shape. Simmons said it took the senior most of the year to get back into full baseball shape, but once he did he made sure the Knights walked off the field with their third consecutive state championship.
“There’s a lot to be said for the fact that he’s an all-everything football player who didn’t get to play in the state championship,” Simmons said. “He’d been there and seen it from the sideline and when we got there he said ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’”
Bradbury – who hit .333 with eight home runs and tied for the team lead with 28 RBIs this season – saved his best for last.
In the state semifinal game against rival Charlotte Country Day, and after the Bucs had jumped out to a 5-0 lead, Bradbury led the Charlotte Christian comeback by crushing a solo home run, providing the spark the Knights needed for a 6-5 come-from-behind win and getting them to the championship series against High Point Christian.
In the finals, Bradbury opened Game 1 with a two-run home run in the fourth inning, putting Christian ahead to stay, and added a solo shot in the sixth for good measure. In Game 2, Bradbury led off the second inning with a home run and in Game 3, he went 2-for-3, finishing the best of three series 5-for-8 at the plate with 5RBIs, four runs scored and three home runs, all while catching every inning of the 22-inning marathon state championship day.
“It was fun to watch,” Simmons said. “It’s one of those things that you watch and say, ‘He’s going to remember this for the rest of his life.’ And another thing for him is, I think there’s a little finality to the way he played, that could’ve quite possibly been his last time swinging a bat where it meant something.
“He made sure it counted, that’s for sure. He was great in the series.”
Bradbury said he grew up with baseball being his first love, but after playing football in middle school for the first time, he figured the gridiron would afford him his best chance of being a college athlete. While that’s what happened, Bradbury said he wanted to make his last few games count.
“This was my last go around for baseball and I had a really good tournament to close it out so I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out on the baseball field,” Bradbury said.
Estep said he’s not at all surprised by Bradbury’s monster end to the baseball season as he’s witnessed first hand the competitiveness and drive that Bradbury shows – and it tends to increase when times get tough and his team needs him the most.
“He’s not just a guy on the roster, he’s a guy who helps win championships,” Estep said. “Garrett’s going to be successful one day for his drive on and off the field to be the best. He’s a great athlete and a great student, too, he achieves in the classroom and he’s just a great kid. He’ll be missed big time
“The Garrett Bradbury I know shows up all the time and even when he’s gotten hurt he’s made the play. That says a lot about him. I remember watching the JV’s when he broke his collarbone and he made an unbelievable one-handed catch going across the middle. When he broke the ankle against Ravenscroft you could see that his ankle had broken, but you know what, he still made the catch. That’s Garrett Bradbury.”
As Bradbury said he’s excited to move onto his next chapter and join the Wolfpack football team this summer, he wrapped up his final day of high school accepting another award – the Charlotte Christian Male Athlete of the Year to go with his five state championship rings.
Simmons, who is in his 23rd season as the Knights’ baseball coach, said he can’t remember anyone who has amassed the kind of success Bradbury has over his high school career.
“The kid is such a competitor and he’s the kind of guy who likes when things are stacked against him – he has the ability to rise to the occasion,” Simmons said. “We’ve seen it for the last three years and it shows in his success.”
As Bradbury leaves, his legacy will remain at Charlotte Christian for years to come, but true to character, he’s unwilling to take all of the credit for himself.
“It’s a testament to the coaches, players and teammates that I’ve had here,” Bradbury said humbly. “The coaching and leadership is amazing and all of my teammates have been awesome to me – obviously I can’t win five rings without them.
“The baseball season closes the book for my place here. It’s been a great ride and I love this school and everyone who has been a part of helping me.”