The John Merritt Classic is a little more than a matchup between Tennessee State and Alabama State. It is a previous life meeting a new beginning for Tigers tight end coach Antonio Bradford.
The first year assistant comes to the Land of Golden Sunshine after spending the last 15 years wearing the Black and Gold of ASU. Fitting his first game with the Tigers will be against the university he has spent almost half his life being a part of as a player and coach.
Coming out of high school, Bradford was looking for a place to play college football. He and his brother were recruited by TSU and offensive line coach Russ Ehrenfeld.
“I was really interested in coming to Tennessee State,” said Bradford. “Actually my first collegiate recruiting game was Tennessee State versus Alabama State in 1999. And Tennessee State blew them out and I was thinking that I would never go to Alabama State.”
After the season Ehrenfeld left for ASU and Bradford followed. But the time together was short lived as Ehrenfeld left after one year. But Bradford would remain and went on to be a three-year starter for the Hornets.
During his time on the field, Bradford and his teammates played for three conference championships culminating with a title in 2004.
A year later, Bradford became a Graduate Assistant for the Hornets working with the video coordinator. Six months later he joined the staff as the tight ends coach. He held the position for six years before moving to the offensive line for three years before moving back to coaching the tight ends.
After the 2014 season, ASU made a coaching change and Bradford served as the interim Head Coach until the Hornets settled on former Bethune-Cookman head man Brian Jenkins. The new coach brought in a whole new staff, allowing Bradford to come to TSU.
“The experience was great,” Bradford stated. “I told people when I left Alabama State that I couldn’t be mad, because I was able to get two degrees there, met my wife and out of that we have a daughter. And it gave me a chance to get into a profession I really loved.”
His wife, Faith, is also an alumnus of ASU and was a member of the cheerleading squad. But Bradford had no question on which team she will be rooting for on Sunday.
“There is no doubt,” Bradford said. “She is Big Blue!”
There are still some obvious ties for Bradford, as he will face many players he either recruited or coached.
“It will be fun to get a chance to see those guys,” said Bradford. “It will be fun to go up against some of the guys I recruited. Any game you play is all about competing. I know those guys are going to play hard, but we have a lot of really good talent here at Tennessee State. It is going to be a lot of fun.”
Even though he has only been in blue for six months, Bradford is excited about being a part of the Tigers.
“My time at Alabama State went really well and we had a chance to win some games,” Bradford commented. “But that chapter of my life is over. I will always be alum of Alabama State. But I have always had a mutual respect for Tennessee State and I am happy to be a part of it.”