On Dec. 11, 2021, with the Class 3 high school football state championship game being played minutes from his home, Brad Bradley did what many football coaches might not have done.
He stayed home.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of being there,” said Bradley, the football coach at Heritage High School in Lynchburg. “I am a firm believer that as a coach you have to earn the right to be there, not just go and watch. I was not going to just go and watch. That would have killed me.”
No such worries this coming Saturday. Bradley and his Heritage football team have earned the honor of being the focus of attention.
The Pioneers (12-2) will meet the Phantoms of Phoebus High School in Hampton (14-0) at noon Saturday at Liberty University to determine the 2022 Class 3 champion. The game will be a rematch of the 2018 title game in which Heritage defeated Phoebus 24-20.
That game also was played at Liberty University, and the mention of it brings back great memories for Bradley.
“I can say this without any hesitation whatsoever – that was the greatest day of my life,” Bradley said. “The players I have coached over the years are my kids. I realize how blessed I am to be here.”
Heritage is seeking its third football state title, with wins in 2002 and 2018. Phoebus has nine state titles, and the only championship game it reached without winning was the 2018 loss to Heritage.
The Phantoms come into Saturday’s game off a 58-14 win over Brentsville District in the Class A semifinals. Phoebus averages 44 points per game and allows an average of 4.4 points per game. The Phoebus defense recorded seven shutouts this season and the offense scored less than 25 points only once.
“They are fast, fast, fast,” Bradley said. “They fly to the ball. They have a good defense, and their
quarterback [Nolan James] is special.”
James also is hurt. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound senior injured his ankle in the first quarter of the semifinal game last week, and his status for Saturday is unknown. In his absence, backup quarterback Jayden Early came in and completed six of seven passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 33 yards and another touchdown.
“Their backup is pretty good too,” Bradley said. “They didn’t seem to miss a lot with him in the game. They are very talented. Their No. 5 [wide receiver/free safety Jordan Bass] has committed to [University of] Pittsburgh, and they have good players on both sides of the ball.”
Another of Phoebus’ top defensive players, lineman Mychal McMullin, has committed to play his college football at James Madison University.
But Bradley believes Heritage concedes nothing when it comes to talent. Heritage had 10 players named to the first team all-Region 3C team this year, including players of the year on offense (quarterback Jaicere “Hov” Bateman) and defense (end Terrell Washington).
Bateman, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound senior, has completed 63% of his passes this season for 2,507 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 1,041 yards and another 16 touchdowns. In last week’s 54-0 defeat of Christiansburg, he completed 18 of 23 passes for 334 yards, three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown.
“[Bateman] has really caught on to the nuances of our offense, particularly in the second half of the season,” Bradley said. “He’s special. We turned the keys over to him and he’s done an outstanding job.”
Bradley thinks that come Saturday, the entire Heritage team will be ready to ride along with its quarterback.
“We all know about the ‘757’ and that it means great football up and down,” Bradley said of the area code for the Hampton Roads area. “But I think our Seminole District is the toughest district in the state, day in and day out, all the way through the district. You have to be tough, and you have to be physical, to win in the Seminole. We may not have the D-1 players that the ‘757’ produces, but our kids will not be outworked by anyone. That’s a credit to the players.”
Bradley said his players’ businesslike approach to practice and to games makes them special.
“When you can find a group of kids who will buy in, be it in the weight room, watching film, on the practice field or in the game, that’s a special group of young men. Everything they do, they do it selflessly.”
With a Heritage win Saturday, Bradley would have another candidate for the greatest day of his life. But he wants his players to feel that more than himself.
“Our coaching staff has told them this week to soak up every single second of what’s happening this week and what’s going to happen Saturday,” Bradley said. “We have 15 seniors who will be playing their last game, win or lose, on Saturday. How great is that? To know going in that you only have one game left, and you can give it everything you have.
“That would be a great, great day.”