January 11, 2011

Salisbury's Bradman Follows Father's Path

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

A Division I talent, Sam Bradman took his skills to Salisbury in hopes of following his father's lead and becoming a coach.
© John Strohsacker

It's rite of passage for many young men, sitting down with your father and figuring out what you want to do with your life. It can be an awkward conversation, sometimes angering, and typically never ends well.

For Dave Bradman, however, the talk with his son prior to sending him to college was one of the more satisfying chats of his life.

When Sam Bradman told his father he was going to eschew a prep year – and a Division I shot at Hobart – to pursue his old man's trade in physical education, Dave Bradman's chest swelled with pride.

"I had such a wonderful experience in phys-ed and when he said he wanted to do it, too, I thought he'd be great at it," said Dave Bradman, a longtime PE teacher and coach in the Canton, N.Y., school system. "I guess, as a parent, one of the best compliments you can get is when they want to do what you've been doing for your whole life."

"I think in any household you see what your parents do, and if you like it, you like it, and if you don't, you don't," Sam said. "It wasn't until high school that I realized that I wanted to coach. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a phys-ed teacher, but I feel like that is the most common area to go into if you want to be a coach."

So you're a Division I talent and looking for a PE degree? There's someone who'd like to speak with you.

"Jim Berkman's a pretty good salesman for that school," said Dave Bradman, with a chuckle, about the Salisbury coach's recruiting abilities.

Berkman and the elder Bradman have known each other for a long time. Bradman was the football and lacrosse coach at H.C. Williams High School in Canton, N.Y., for over 25 years. The two first met when Berkman was an assistant coach for nearby St. Lawrence University.

When the Salisbury coach found out Sam Bradman was undecided, he wasted little time.

"We had some initial contact, but we thought that was pretty much over, and then [Dave Bradman] called me back and said, 'Hey, we really want to take a look at Salisbury right now. I'd like Sam to be able to play for you, and he wants to be a physical education major,'" said Berkman. "Sam came down in the middle of the year and I think it was the first week of February when he committed to coming here."

"I started talking with Coach [Berkman], and two weeks later he told me that I got in, so that was nice," said Bradman, who, oddly enough, had originally planned on attending the Salisbury (Conn.) School in preparation for Hobart. "I just needed to suck it up and take my mind to college, as well as my body."

He also took his humility.

While Bradman didn't lack bravado – "With my skill level, I was as confident as anyone who has come into college," he said – he did possess an inherent deference to the Sea Gulls' upperclassmen. That he resided in the shadow of Kylor Berkman, the two-time national player of the year and the coach's son, exacerbated Bradman's tendency to defer to teammates.

"I had Kylor right in front of me, which shot me down a few notches," said Bradman. "Maybe I'm not that good."

Berkman instantly saw what was happening and tried to push Bradman to do more.

"He was a lot like my son in regards to his freshman year," said Berkman. "They were both one of the top three midfielders on the team, but they didn't want to step on anyone's toes. He was just a freshman feeling his way around. We kept telling him, just like I told my son, 'You need to go to the goal a little bit more; you need to take some chances and you'll make a few more plays.' It's a tough mental transition."

In an attempt to get him out of his shell, the Salisbury staff got after Bradman on a daily basis.

"It was kind of a joke on the team my freshman year. The coaches would come up to me and say, 'Sam, stop playing like a damn freshman.' I would say, 'Alright, sorry, sir,'" Bradman said.

It worked. In his first season, Bradman finished with 17 goals and 24 assists (good for second on the team behind Kylor Berkman), finishing sixth on the team in points. As he left for his summer break after a rare Salisbury NCAA quarterfinals loss, Bradman was given his instructions for the next season.

"Hey, Sam, this is what we need to have out of you: Kylor is graduating, so we're putting the ball in your stick," said Jim Berkman. "We want you to make plays. It doesn't matter if you make mistakes. Great players have to have that ability and confidence. If you're going to be a great playmaker, you're going to throw away the ball a little bit. That's the way it is."

Message received.

Despite drawing a massive amount of attention from the opposition – "We saw two poles up top, we saw some shut-off, we saw some quick-sliding stuff," said Berkman – Bradman scored 58 goals and dished 28 assists as Salisbury's top scorer in 2010. His work helped the Sea Gulls advance to the national championship game, where they fell to Tufts.

Berkman expects Bradman to continue the maturation process that started from the day he arrived.

"With Sam, like a lot of our other great players, you only have to tell him how to do something one time," said Berkman. "You show him on a piece of paper, and he can go out and execute it because he knows the game and has the skills to make it happen. His knowledge of the game is outstanding."

One of Bradman's challenges for the coming year is to pass on his knowledge to underclassmen -- no easy feat for Bradman, a self-confessed lacrosse loner who enjoys nothing more than hitting the wall by himself for an hour. With his coach's encouragement, Bradman now grabs a freshman when he does his off-season training.

It might not be the most comfortable aspect of his heightened role, but it is predestined.

"I told him when he said he wanted to be a phys-ed major that I thought it was a great decision on his part because from the time he was pretty young, I saw that quality in him," said Bradman's father, who was inducted into the Upstate New York Chapter of US Lacrosse's hall of fame in 2008. "I wasn't trying to push him toward being a phys-ed major, but I think it's one of his gifts."

Said Sam Bradman: "My father was telling me about the great time he had helping kids, and he showed me that I had an opportunity to touch so many people."

Although he is getting Player of the Year buzz, Bradman is just a junior, so he still has plenty to learn. Fortunately, he has an ever-present mentor. Pacing the sidelines again this year, like he has for just about every game, will be Sam's father. It's a nine-hour drive from Canton to Maryland's Eastern Shore, but knowing his son is trying to follow in his footsteps makes the trip pass quicker.

"I don't like being in the car and I don't like driving, but I sure don't mind being there and watching him play," said Dave Bradman.

Call it a rite of passage for one Salisbury fan.

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