As a child, Garrett Bradbury dreamed of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. He excelled enough as a catcher in high school that it appeared his athletic future might be in baseball. He arrived at North Carolina State as a tight end, and even spent an eight-month stint working as a defensive lineman.
But all along, while Bradbury tried on different fits, his father, Tim, knew where he’d wind up.
“When the helmet’s not on, he’s a student of the game. When you put the helmet on, he can be a little ornery and get after people,” Tim Bradbury said Friday. “So I always thought he’d make a good offensive lineman. He never agreed with me, during the first year of college. But when [North Carolina State coach Dave] Doeren asked him, he finally took a clue and followed some advice.”
The elder Bradbury’s hunch came with some credibility; he played as a blocking tight end at Eastern Washington, and still cut an impressive figure in a sport coat on Friday. When his son finally arrived on the offensive line in 2015, he found a match that both suited him and challenged him.
“He just loved the fact he was on the field every down, every play,” Tim Bradbury said. “He could feel part of the game. In high school, he played both ways — he never came out. You go to college, you’re going to play one side or the other, and in N.C. State’s tight end scheme, you’re only in for about 20 plays a game. It really helped him solidify, ‘I want to do this. And I have to be ready for that, mentally and physically.’ ”
Garrett Bradbury started eating healthier and doing yoga — “the things I should be doing,” Tim Bradbury said Friday — and after he moved from guard to center as a junior, he landed in a spot that afforded him the same level of detailed involvement he’d enjoyed as a catcher in baseball. He earned first-team all-ACC honors as a junior and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center as a senior.
Now in Minnesota as the Vikings’ 2019 first-round pick, Bradbury is embarking on what he plans to be a lifelong pursuit.
“The summer after the 2016 season, I got an internship with Lenovo, thinking I was going to go into the supply chain of business,” he said during his introductory news conference on Friday. “It was a good internship; I did pretty well. I left that summer like, ‘I’ve got to stay around football-minded people the rest of my life.’ Nothing against [the corporate world]. I just think my calling is through sports, through football specifically. And so from then I was like, ‘I’m going to make it in the NFL, and then after that or if that doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m going to coach.’ I just love being around locker rooms, I love being around football guys. I don’t know; it’s just kind of my decision I made. I’m running with it.”
The anecdote cast Bradbury as the kind of football aficionado the Vikings have tried to curate under General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, who sat behind Bradbury with a satisfied expression on his face during Friday’s news conference.
Bradbury could wind up as the Vikings’ center, if the team decides to play him there and shift Pat Elflein to guard, but as he talked Friday about his role in his first year, he indicated his willingness to wait on a leadership role — “No one is going to listen to a rookie coming in barking orders, trying to lead anyone,” he said.
During his tour of the Vikings’ expansive practice facility on Friday, he wondered aloud why a player would ever want to leave. Doerner described Bradbury as being “fascinated by X’s and O’s” when he studies film.
“You want your children to be like him,” Doerner said. “He’s as classy a person as you’re going to be around, but as competitive of one, at the same time.”
His indoctrination to the Vikings on Friday brought things full circle for his father, who grew up in Seattle watching Pat Summerall narrate highlights of Bud Grant’s Vikings teams on Sunday mornings before the Seahawks arrived in the Pacific Northwest.
Chuck Foreman was one of his favorites; “He’d catch the ball, [make] that spin move and run for another 30 yards. It was awesome,” Tim Bradbury said. As he talked, a bundle of recently signed memorabilia from Foreman was tucked under Bradbury’s arm.
Time will tell how long a partnership the Vikings will have with their newest offensive lineman. But in the initial stages of the relationship, Bradbury appeared to be right at home.
“When you come to a place and culture and character is preached, that goes a long way,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be part of an organization that values that.”