A trusted voice from Sam Bradford's past helped the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback resist quitting football last year after he suffered a second devastating injury to his left knee in a span of nine months.
Josh Heupel, who was Bradford's quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he reached out to his former pupil to give him a pep talk last year and try to convince him not to give in to the doubts that came with torn anterior cruciate ligaments in the same knee in less than a year.
"I just tried to reach out to him and say: 'Hey, I still see this in you as a person and a player. I think the best is yet to come for you. You've got to get yourself healthy and get yourself back on the field and get yourself in the right environment with the right people and the right supporting cast around you, and there's no doubt in my mind you'll achieve the things you're capable of achieving and want to achieve,'" Heupel, who is now the offensive coordinator at Utah State, told the newspaper in a telephone interview.
Bradford, 27, missed the entire 2014 season after tearing his left ACL in a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns in August when he tried to step away from a defender in the pocket. It was the second time he tore that ACL, as he suffered the same injury in an October 2013 game against the Carolina Panthers.
Bradford said in December that he contemplated walking away from the NFL because of the injuries.
"It was really tough that first week after the injury," Bradford said in December. "There was part of me for a couple days that I was done with football. I didn't want to come back, I didn't want to play, I was tired of rehabbing. I was just tired of the process. But when you step back and you are away from the game for a while, then you come back and you're in the building and you're around your teammates, I quickly realized that I wasn't done and that I wanted to come back and that I feel like I've still got a lot to prove."
Heupel told the Inquirer that he sensed that Bradford felt "snakebitten" because of the short time between injuries.
"You don't know when, if, or how your body is going to respond and what your next opportunity is. You're really just in a lot of limbo. Sometimes, I think, just having a voice from an outside perspective is something that can be valuable," he told the newspaper.
Heupel said he believes Bradford can still become the player he was expected to be when he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft.
"Nothing changed for him from a guy who was the No. 1 overall draft pick as far as who or what he is as a person and a competitor, and ultimately that's why there's no doubt in my mind he's going to reach the pinnacle of success," he told the newspaper.
Bradford said earlier this month that his main focus at this point is on getting healthy, and not whether he'll be Eagles' starting quarterback.
"I really haven't even thought about [starting]," Bradford told reporters. "I'm still trying to process this whole move. My main goal right now is to get healthy. Once I get healthy, I'll start learning this offense. When I'm ready to get on the field, whether that's OTAs or training camp, it's to compete for the starting job. I don't want anything handed to me. I want to earn it."