J.R. Cook, executive director of United National Indian Tribal Youth in Oklahoma City, believes Bradford is the first quarterback with American Indian heritage to start for a major college program since Sonny Sixkiller at Washington in 1972.
“Obviously, Oklahoma football is huge all over the state, and in the Cherokee Nation it’s the same,” Miller said. “The quarterback on an Oklahoma team who’s done as well as he has is a rock star in Oklahoma, and now we feel like he’s our rock star.”
Sports, of course, aren’t always the most meaningful endeavor, Cook said. But he understands their visibility and likes to note an old American Indian saying: “The honor of one is the honor of all.”
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow are Heisman Trophy front-runners, but Oklahoma freshman quarterback Sam Bradford leads the nation in passing efficiency.
OU coaches rave about the 6-foot-5 Bradford’s sheer talent. But his performance also is testament to his poise and unselfishness — traits Bradford’s father, Kent, said have long defined his son.
Those characteristics also are ones that the Cherokee Nation believes reflect Bradford’s lineage as the great-great-grandson of Susie Walkingstick, a full-blooded Cherokee.
“The way he holds himself … the way he’s calm under pressure, the way he deals with adversity,” said Mike Miller, spokesman for the tribe, which is based in Tahlequah, Okla. “Those are all things we take pride in ourselves.”
Even more so with Bradford leading an OU team that is 10-2 and ranked ninth as it meets No. 1 Missouri today for the Big 12 Conference title.
“A lot of people wonder why more American Indians aren’t playing at the collegiate and professional levels,” Cook said, adding that Bradford’s emergence “is an incentive, if that’s the right word. It gives youth some inspiration and motivation that if (he) can do it, maybe I can.”
Bradford is unavailable to the media except after OU games. He has said he is proud of his heritage but acknowledged that it has not been a force in his life.
His father, Kent, an Oklahoma City insurance man who played line for the Sooners in the late 1970s, said his family has not closely followed its Indian culture. He has welcomed the chance to become more acquainted with his background, but …
“I’m just an American — hell, I’m an Oklahoman,” said Kent Bradford, who said his “first powwow” will occur when Sam is honored at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic at its spring powwow.
That stance doesn’t trouble Miller of the Cherokee Nation.
“Citizens of our nation don’t have to act a certain way or be a certain way; it’s just like being a citizen of the United States,” he said. “We can all be proud to be American citizens, but it’s something that’s not necessarily in the forefront of our minds every day, either. It’s taken for granted.”
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson doesn’t take for granted that Bradford will have better seasons in his career. The cast around him, Wilson said, has much to do with his success. That said, Wilson marvels at what Bradford has achieved at his age and trusts his game only will get better.
Already, Bradford has set a major-college record for freshmen with 32 touchdown passes while throwing just seven interceptions. That’s one less touchdown pass than Daniel and two fewer interceptions.
OU coach Bob Stoops believes that if Bradford weren’t a freshman, he would be in the buzz for the Heisman as much as Daniel or Tebow.
“I don’t know why else,” Stoops said.
There are other reasons, though. Daniel has thrown for nearly 1,300 more yards than Bradford and has outrushed him 258-8. Tebow has equally impressive statistics, including 22 rushing touchdowns.
Still, the race might be different if Bradford had not been knocked out of OU’s game against Texas Tech early with a concussion. Had the Sooners won instead of losing 34-27, they might have been No. 1, and MU No. 2, entering today’s game.
As it is, if he outplays Daniel on such a prominent stage, Bradford will become even more the rock star and source of pride for many.
Vahe Gregorian can be reached at [email protected] | 314-340-8199. This article first appeared in the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.