Bradshaw stars on, off the field at Brooks

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Bradshaw stars on, off the field at Brooks

No wonder Ahmad Bradshaw has trouble getting any attention from college recruiters. When they look for Brooks' 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior quarterback on the Internet, they often are exposed to running back Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants instead.

But the high school version is rapidly making a reputation of his own. Last Friday, he ran for three touchdowns and passed for another as Brooks snapped Austin's nine-game winning streak 49-12 in the second round of the Class 4A playoff.

Coach James Brown's team is in rarified air. The Eagles (8-2), who started 1-2 with losses to highly rated Kaneland 25-24 and Rock Island 33-28, will put their seven-game winning streak on the line against Evergreen Park (8-3) this weekend in a quarterfinal match-up at Evergreen Park.

Since the Public League began participating in the state playoff in 1979, only three representatives (Hubbard, Lane Tech, Tilden) have reached the semifinals and only one (Robeson in 1982) has advanced to the championship game.

"We had a lot of adversity in the beginning of the year," Bradshaw said. "We had to jump the gates to practice on our own field. But we always come together. What I learned when we played Kaneland and Rock Island is we can play with anybody. Our goal is to be the first Public League team to win the state title."

Brown wouldn't be surprised. "This is one of the best teams I have seen. They work hard in class and on the field. We have 11 Division I players. We have kids who scored 25 on the ACT and have 3.6 grade-point averages on a 5.0 scale. I thought we'd be undefeated. But things worked out against us," the coach said.

That's because Brown heeded some advice from Hubbard coach Elton Harris, whom he assisted for six years. "Coach Harris said to schedule tough opponents early. Last year, we lost to Kaneland 44-0 and to Rock Island by 14. But we played them tougher this year. We were one play from winning both games. You've got to get tested early so it won't be a shock in the playoff," Brown said.

He thinks the strategy will pay off. Most of his players started as freshmen. "They took bumps and bruises. But they stayed together. They have a special bond. They go to the park on Sunday to work out and they watch TV together. They have worked hard for this," Brown said.

Nobody has worked harder than Bradshaw. He has a 4.39 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale with honors courses. He has scholarship offers from West Point, Illinois, Northern Illinois, Stanford, Wisconsin, Air Force, Syracuse and Fordham.

"You can't rely on football to get where you want to go," Bradshaw said. "One of my coaches is paralyzed from the neck down. A friend of mine was killed on his birthday two weeks ago. You have to take academics seriously."

Bradshaw plans to study athletic training or law or pre-med or broadcast journalism in college. He also wants to play quarterback. Some schools are recruiting him as an athlete, which spells wide receiver or defensive back.

"I could play any position but I want to play quarterback because I'm good at it and that's what I've been doing since seventh grade," he said. "I'd like to attend Michigan State, Fordham, West Point or Wisconsin or any Big Ten school that has my major and where I can fit into football."

In 10 games, he has passed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"He is the trigger of this team," Brown said. "We have a lot of great kids but he's the leader on offense."

Bradshaw grew up in Bronzeville, near 44th and Prairie. He played for the Mighty Men youth football program near Dunbar. He played basketball at Beasley but his mother got him involved in football and he soon realized that he was better at football, that he had enough talent to play at another level.

"I love football more," he said. "Football teaches me to work with people, to come together with people, to overcome adversity, to never give up. It is a family oriented sport and you've got to be a family or it won't work. Everybody has to do his job or it won't work."

Bradshaw loves to pull the trigger on Brown's triple option spread offense. "I always wanted to be a quarterback. In grammar school, people looked up to me. I looked at myself as a natural leader at quarterback. I'm a dual threat. I want to get the job done, no matter whatever it takes, even if I have to throw the ball with my left hand. I played with a broken rib in one game last year," he said.

Brooks' offense, which is averaging 37 points per game, features Bradshaw, 5-foot-7 160-pound senior wingback Cleveland Clark, 6-foot, 190-pound senior fullbacksafety Josh Smith, 6-foot, 300-pound junior center Lavalle Hughes and 6-foot, 285-pound senior guard Leon Harmon.

In Friday's victory over Austin, Clark carried 22 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns while Smith rushed 15 times for 155 yards and one touchdown. In 10 games, Clark has rushed for more than 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns. Smith, Brooks' only two-way player, has offers from Illinois and Michigan State as a free safety.

In Brooks' 49-14 romp over Payton in the opening round of the playoff, Cleveland and Smith each rushed for over 100 yards. Bradshaw scored on a 60-yard run and Clark scored on a 95-yarder to give the Eagles an early 14-0 lead. Smith also scored on a 28-yard interception return and Jackson set up another touchdown with a 90-yard interception return.

Defensively, Smith is the leader. Other contributors are 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior middle linebacker Egypt Johnson, 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior end John McCain and 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior free safety Zeriam Jackson. The Eagles are allowing 14 points per game.

In his fifth year as head coach at Brooks, Brown has plenty of experience. At 43, this is his fourth head coaching job. He was an assistant to John Wrenn when Homewood-Flossmoor won the state title in 1994. He won 22 games in two years as head coach at Westinghouse and also was head coach at Corliss for two years before going to Brooks.

The way things are going at the South Side school, it won't take long for college recruiters to figure out who the real Admad Bradshaw is.

Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

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Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, the 2016 Bears are coming into focus.

Sunday night, CSN broke down the weekend that was — a busy one for the Bears, featuring not just the draft but also the addition of a backup quarterback and the subtraction of veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle.

So where do the Bears stand? Click on the links below to hear from Chris Boden, Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Hub Arkush as they recap the draft and the rest of the Bears' offseason.

— Draft Central: Initial impressions of Bears' draft class

— Draft Central: Scouting first-round pick Leonard Floyd

— Draft Central: Bears move around in Round 2

— Draft Central: A look at the Bears' post-draft depth chart

— Draft Central: Bears release Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

— Draft Central: Bears add Brian Hoyer as Jay Cutler backup

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

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Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

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