Defensive line duo turn academic woes into success story
JONESBORO, Ark. -- Four years ago, Arkansas State defensive linemen Corey Williams and Jon Bradley were academic causalities, forced to sit in the stands and do nothing but go to class.
Last year, they were seniors who were named to the Sun Belt Conference's first-team defensive unit after combining for 17 sacks and their college athletic careers could have been over.
Now, after hard work in the classroom restored their fourth year of eligibility, the Indians don't have to replace Williams and Bradley. They're back for a second senior season.
"They have really paid the price to buckle down and do their work academically to get that fourth year," coach Steve Roberts said Saturday during Arkansas State's media day. "They've also done everything right off the field to stay attached to the program for so long. It's a very difficult process. It's one of the most rewarding things a young man can do to regain that extra year."
Both players man the defensive tackle positions for the second straight season after moving from playing defensive end their first two years at Arkansas State.
Williams made 42 tackles and nine sacks, just one less than conference leader and defensive player of the year Brandon Kennedy from North Texas. Bradley made 71 tackles and eight sacks.
Williams and Bradley have come a long way since 1999, when they didn't meet NCAA academic standards, couldn't take part in practice and couldn't play in games.
Bradley had a record-breaking high school career at Barton, rushing for 6,493 yards and 63 touchdowns and he was a three-year starter at linebacker. Williams made 149 tackles and rushed for 1,473 yards as a senior at Harmony Grove.
However, they came to Arkansas State as students, hoping to improve their academic careers before they could worry about restarting their athletic careers.
"It was a hard battle coming in as a Proposition 48 student," said Bradley, who didn't finalize his extra year until after this summer's second session. "It was tough to stay in the classroom and then at the same time try to work out and try to get better."
Both players credit Kristen Davis, Arkansas State's associate athletic director for student services, for helping them stay on target for their degrees and regaining their fourth season.
"We talked about it last year the classes I had to pass for sure," said Williams, who earned his fourth year after the spring semester. "I'm not going to say I was in clear, because I was a little worried. After a while, I got used to it and I hit the books.
"It feels good to know that I have coaches and faculty that were willing to help me get that year back. The only thing I can do is tell them 'Thank you' for being by my side."
Bradley is majoring in sports management, but once he graduates he anticipates returning to school so he can became a coach. Williams is a physical education major, who would also like to coach.
However, they still have a lot of time to play. Last year, the Indians were 6-7 in Roberts' first year thanks to a defense that improved its pass-rushing ability. The team jumped to second in the league with 34 sacks after making just eight sacks in 2001.
Now, both Williams, 6-4, 295 pounds, and Bradley, 6-2, 292 pounds, are candidates for more post-season honors and professional careers.
"Both those guys will have an opportunity because of that to move on to the next level," Roberts said. "Sometimes the junior college requirements, the way they are now for transferring to a Division I school, who knows what would have happened if they had chosen that route."
Academic causalities usually drive college football coaches mad.
Players who fail to make NCAA and university academic standards have two choices. They can go to junior college, where there's no guarantee they will return to the school that originally signed them. Injuries may keep them from reaching their potential and poor grades at junior college may keep them from playing NCAA Division I football.
The other choice is to go to the school that signed them and sit out a year. If the players make good progress toward their degrees, they'll get that fourth year back.
Roberts will have a group of players who fit that description this year, so having Williams and Bradley around as mentors will help.
"We'll have six or seven guys coming in this fall who are really good football players who will have to learn from the example these guys set," Roberts said.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index