As a three-time All-SEC player In the late 1990s, defensive lineman Melvin Bradley, Jr. could be counted on to get the job in the trenches done without complaint. As a freshman in 1995, Bradley played a backup role on the first Razorback team to win an SEC West title.
Then, as a sophomore and junior, the nose guard led the Hogs in tackles (the only down lineman to do so since Billy Ray Smith Jr. in 1981). As a senior in 1998 he helped spearhead arguably the best SEC defense the Arkansas program has ever produced, a Keith Burns-led “Code Red” unit that intimidated and manhandled Alabama to the tune of 42-7.
The 6’1”, 270 pound Bradley was “tough, fast, hard-nosed, a great guy,” said Marvin Caston, his teammate from 1996-1998. “He really liked going to school and minding his business. He was a light when he came around he lit up the room with that smile of his.”
After playing at Arkansas, Bradley briefly played for the Arizona Cardinals and then played at least six years in the Canadian Football League.
He returned to northwest Arkansas, and has worked at jobs that involve Walmart Optical and delivering for Natural State Distributing. Just as he did on the gridiron, he’s steadily grinded, always doing the job.*
But as much as the 44-year-old Melvin Bradley has been able to provide for his family, he now needs your help.
On August 11, his youngest son Zeydan Bradley was killed in Hughes** in east Arkansas. (A 24 year old old has been charged with the murder, according to Saint Francis County Sheriff’s Office. An investigation is pending.) Understandably, the Bradleys are reeling from this unexpected turn of events. Melvin Bradley and his wife Zoranda are taking time off of work to grieve, but also need to pay for the funeral costs. “Him and his family need support now more than ever,” Caston said.
That’s why Caston, a senior director of development for the Razorback Foundation, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the Bradleys.
Many Razorbacks, including Zac Painter, Mark Smith, Jamel Harris, Geno Bell, Chad Abernathy, Grant Garrett, Blake Eddins, Russell Brown and Jeremiah Washburn, have already donated thousands of dollars.
Zeydan Bradley and Football
Zeydan Bradley, age 17, would have been a senior in Springdale School District. Like his father and older brother Melvin Bradley III, he loved football growing up. Although everything about his frame screamed “lineman,” he envisioned himself as a sleek tailback, said Zak Clark, the head coach at Springdale High School. When Bradley was a seventh grader at George Junior High, Clark remembers visiting the team and Bradley confidently addressing the former Razorback and UCA Bears quarterback.
“He would say ‘Coach, I’m gonna play tailback for you,’” Clark recalled in a phone interview.
Through junior high and into his sophomore year of high school, when he played junior varsity at Springdale High, Zeydan “was a dominant player on both sides of the line,” Clark said. “Every coach liked him. You couldn’t stay made at him, even when he got in trouble and you had to punish him — he’d find some way to make you laugh.”
“He was one of those kids that was looking for excitement. You would say ‘Zeydan, go make up a test.’ He’d say ‘Yes sir’ and be on his way to the right teacher’s room to make it up. “Then some kid would see him and a half an hour later he’d still be talking. Very go with the flow.”
Bradley, by sheer dint of his big personality, almost always made an impression.
Clark recalled that once Barry Lunney, Jr., a former Razorback assistant coach, swung by Springdale High to catch up. After a while chatting in the office, Clark took him to watch the players work out. “Zeydan walks by and he asks ‘Is that Melvin Bradley’s kid?’ Lunney, who played with Melvin Bradley for the Hogs in 1995, saw an immediate resemblance. “Zeydan went over to Barry and loved hearing stories about his dad back in the day. “Every time I talked to Barry afterward, he’d ask ‘How is Melvin’s kid doing?’”
A few months ago, when former Razorback De’Anthony Curtis suffered a severe burn, hundreds of Razorback fans stepped up to help cover medical expenses. Now, another family needs the help of the larger Razorback family.
Melvin Bradley’s Career
Bradley is the only Razorback lineman to lead the school in defensive tackles for two consecutive seasons.
He played in 31 games over his four years and started 22 consecutive games during one stretch. He made 160 career defensive tackles and finished his career tied for 9th place in schools all-time sack list.
As a senior in 1998, Bradley made the SEC Coaches first team All-SEC squad and the Associated Press’ second team. He had 56 defensive tackles, seven tackles for a loss of 35 yards, four quarterback sacks for 28 yards lost, an interception return for 11 yards and a forced fumble.
Bradley led the Hogs in defensive tackles with 71 during his junior season of 1997. He had seven tackles for a loss of 31 yards, four quarterback sacks for 17 yards lost, four fumble returns and two forced fumbles.
As a sophomore, Bradley led the school with 89 defensive tackles . He had 14 tackles for a loss of 60 yards, seven quarterback sacks for 47 yards lost, two pass knockdowns and a forced fumble.
In his rookie season, he played in three games, making one defensive tackle and a tackle for a loss of four yards.
Before his career as a Razorback, Bradley attended Barton High School in east Arkansas. He earned two-time All-State & All-District honors. He led the Bears to the state title game his senior year, recording 120 defensive tackles.
At Barton, Bradley was also a two-time All-District selection in basketball and once in track-and-field.
The Beatdown: Arkansas finest moment against Alabama:
*One of the companies that Melvin Bradley delivers to is Bentonville’s First Seat sports pub, owed by Sean Walden. H/t to Walden for making me aware of this tragedy.
**Hughes High is where Gus Malzahn got his head coaching start. Coincidentally, Malzahn’s last coaching stop in the high school ranks would be Springdale High.