Oct. 15, 2016
By Tom Fenstermaker
While football might be the ultimate team sport, Virginia inside linebacker Zach Bradshaw brings a different, solitary mentality to help him and the Cavaliers succeed on the gridiron.
“I am one of those DIY guys,” Bradshaw said. “I like to do things myself and I am really good at finding the most efficient way to do things, without taking shortcuts.”
Bradshaw learned this mentality of DIY, which stands for do-it-yourself, from his family, growing up in Michigan and then later Damascus, Md., where he went to high school.
“This DIY nature comes from two people,” he said. “My grandfather is an electrician and he and my grandmother would drive 10 hours from Michigan and stay for a few weeks, but every time they come, my parents would have a project waiting for him, whether it was laying tiles, redoing drywall or working on the electricity in the house.
“My dad is also like that. If he has any free time, he is the same way. Before we moved to Damascus, he and my grandfather finished the basement, doing all the plumbing and electricity themselves, so I think that is where I get it from.”
Bradshaw has grown up from small jobs such as repairing broken toilets, to his toughest project, regrouting the tiles on the bathroom floor.
“When I come across a project, I will watch YouTube videos on how to do it,” he said. “Then I’ll get my grocery list prepared and go to the hardware store and get all the supplies. I make myself fully prepared for the task at hand and figure out how to fix it.”
That approach of preparation and attention to detail has translated well to the football field, and it is part of the reason he has worked his way from seeing action in five games in 2013 to being one of UVA’s starting inside linebackers.
“The more prepared you are on the football field, the better off you are going to be,” Bradshaw said. “I think one of the biggest things I do off the field is watching film. You can go against the scout team all you want, but they are not going to give you all of the same looks that your opponent will.”
An example of Bradshaw’s preparation was in the Cavaliers’ first win of the season against Central Michigan.
“There were little things we picked up on after watching film,” he said. “When the linemen were tapping their helmets, every single time it was a pass, because they were calling out the protection they were going to do. If you watch the tape of us, you can see shouting to each other, ‘It is going to be a pass.’ Another thing would be the lineman I was going against would change the angle of his foot if it was a run or pass.
“Putting in that extra time after practice and before you get dinner or even in between classes is where you pick up on little hints like that and they are so valuable in the game. As a linebacker it is easy to get sucked up by the play action and then get caught when you are trying to get back in coverage, so that is where putting the extra time comes in.”
That quality of putting in that extra effort does not only apply to Bradshaw, but also to his fellow inside linebacker Micah Kiser.
“With class schedules, we may not get to watch film together, but when we can, we compare notes, because everyone picks up on different things,” Bradshaw said.
“We have a very laid-back relationship off the field, but that helps us when it comes to sitting down to break down film and when we are on the field,” Kiser said. “We do a great job of communicating and it just comes natural to us because we have a great relationship off the field and have played together all four years.”
Kiser and Bradshaw have formed a formidable partnership in the heart of the Virginia defense and it started basically as soon as they arrived in Charlottesville.
“We were in the same dorm our first year and then lived together our second year,” Bradshaw said. “Now he lives like 30 seconds from me, so we are basically connected at the hip. The fact that we get along so well has helped us because we have done it forever. We can sit down and look at a formation and in a second figure out what we want to run. Micah is smart that way in that he can pick it up so quickly. It is certainly helpful to have him.”
Between having a rock-solid connection with his fellow inside linebacker Kiser and a DIY-mentality of preparation and attention to detail, there is no telling what goals Bradshaw and the Cavaliers may achieve next.