Heading into the 2022 high school football season, Liberty had no delusions of grandeur.
Wrecked by graduation and returning very little varsity experience, the Raiders knew they faced a huge uphill battle on the gridiron.
“I give everything to our kids. They stayed focused and they never quit. They easily could have,” interim head coach Mark Montgomery said. “As coaches, you come in every week and wonder how you are going to keep them motivated and working hard, but they did.”
That fight and determination paid huge dividends in the final week of the season where the Raiders recorded a wild, 54-43 win over Wyoming East.
One of the chief contributors for Liberty that night was junior workhorse Connor Bradford.
Carrying the ball 42 times on the night, Bradford amassed 291 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead the charge in Glen Daniel.
For his efforts, Bradford has been named the Week 11 Lootpress Player of the Week by the Lootpress sportswriters.
The award is sponsored by The Law Offices of Brandon Steele, Bodyworks and Mid-State Ford. Bradford won via the fan poll tiebreaker, accumulating over 20,000 votes.
“I am just truly blessed to receive this award. A lot of hard work went into the season, especially with my broken wrist,” Bradford explained. “It was a huge struggle throughout the year having to wear a cast all year. It is rewarding and a great feeling to get picked as Player of the Week.”
Bradford’s season was thrown into question back in the spring during a non-contact football camp at the University of Charleston.
“Everything was going great and we were doing one-on-one (drills). I was running a wheel route. I made a move on the linebacker and beat him pretty good on the route. I turned back to catch the ball and the next thing I know he dove and took (out) my legs. On instinct I tried to catch myself and fractured a bone called the scaphoid.”
The scaphoid bone is one of the carpal bones on the thumb side of the wrist. The bone is crucial for motion and stability in the wrist joint.
“It has very bad blood supply going to it and it was a struggle to heal. Just today, I went to my orthopedic (doctor) and he said it was 98 percent healed,” Bradford said. “Thank God it was non-displaced and I didn’t have to have surgery.”
In order to play however, Bradford had to wear a cast from his thumb to his elbow for two months. When he was finally released for contact, the cast he wore ran halfway down his forearm to his thumb.
“The cast immobilized my thumb in order for that bone to fully heal,” Bradford said.
Wearing the cast for the remainder of the season, Bradford fumbled just once across eight games played.
“I was dying to get out there and I practiced as much as I could with that cast on,” Bradford. “The one time I fumbled, I think it was a trap left call. The line blocked perfectly and it was about to be a 70-yard touchdown run, but that kid came up from behind me. Naturally I would have had it in my left hand, but I had it in my right. I ran as fast as I could, but I didn’t have 100 percent control of the ball and he punched it out.”
Under the circumstances, one fumble over the huge number of carries for Bradford this year was nothing short of amazing.
Even more amazing is the fact that Bradford played both ways for the Raiders.
“He has started for us basically since halfway through his freshman season as one of our outside linebacker and he has played great,” Montgomery said. “He is our main offensive threat as well. Sometimes we would worry, are were running him too much and we would keep asking him if he was OK. Twice against Wyoming East I sat him out a couple of series on defense.”
Bradford scored back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to give Liberty some breathing room against the Warriors, but he was far from done.
“I knew we had no hopes of making the playoffs, so I just wanted give it everything I had in that last game and leave it all on the field.
After having a touchdown run of over 70 yards called back just before the half, Bradford added his third score of the night in the middle of the third period for a 42-20 lead.
East would not go away, however, trimming the lead back to five points late in the contest.
Fighting cramps on defense, Bradford came to the sideline for some help.
“While they were stretching me out really good, we got a big stop on defense,” Bradford said. “When we went back out on offense, we called our “smash left” play. I felt really good and I just ran as fast as I could to get in the end zone.”
Bradford raced 53 yards for the final score of the game to seal the win for Liberty.
Both Montgomery and Bradford gave credit for Friday’s performance to the line and the huge blocking effort from senior running back, Wyatt Burdette.
“He made a lot of key blocks for me that night. A lot of what I did this season relied on him getting that key block. Me and him are good buddies and I just tried to follow him the best I could.”
Playing eight games with a broken wrist, Bradford finished the season with 1,333 yards.
The other candidates for Week 11 Lootpress Player of the Week were Kaleb Clark (Nicholas County), Braydie Carr (James Monroe), Ian Cline (Greenbrier East) and Ty Nickell (Greenbrier West).