Connor Bradby had a great freshman year.
His next two weren’t so great.
Bradby is a senior at Father Judge High School and he started playing for the varsity squad since he arrived. It shouldn’t be a great surprise, the Bradby name is soccer royalty in Northeast Philadelphia. His grandfather Walt was a legendary assistant coach at Archbishop Ryan and his dad and uncle were stars for the Raiders.
And while Bradby’s career started out great, he struggled during his sophomore and junior years because for most of those seasons, he was on the sidelines due to a bum knee.
“I got hurt during my sophomore year against Penn Charter and I missed the last 11 games,” Bradby said. “I thought I hyperextended my knee, I was actually chasing my cousin (Ryan) and the ball bounced over my head, I stepped wrong and it went backwards. I thought it was just hyperextended, but it wasn’t.”
It was way worse.
After trying to play at the start of his junior year, when the Crusaders played a spring season due to the pandemic, he again felt pain when he practiced. It was back to the doctors, where he got a grim diagnosis. His season was shot.
“Finally I went to a surgeon because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Bradby said. “I had a slight tear of the meniscus, the ACL was overstretched and I had a shifted patella. They said it was my kneecap, it shifted and it cut off the fibers. They had to cut the meniscus and fix everything in there.
“It really didn’t hurt that much because I was on medicine, but it was bad because for two weeks, normal things I do, I couldn’t do efficiently. It wasn’t painful, but it was a pain.”
The surgery was in April, and it wiped out the entire spring, and bled into this year. He finally made his return in mid-September, and since then, he’s back where he loves to be.
On Friday, he was loving it more than usual.
Bradby and his teammates knocked off Archbishop Ryan 4-3 in a Catholic League quarterfinal at Ramp Playground, earning the right to go to the semifinals, where the Crusaders will meet Lansdale Catholic, an upset winner over Archbishop Wood in its quarterfinal. The game will also be played at Ramp as part of a semifinal doubleheader on Wednesday. Game time is slated for 5:30 p.m. Roman will meet La Salle in the other semifinal at 7.
The Crusaders jumped out to a 4-0 halftime lead over Ryan on goals by Kevin Castro, Dan Pizzaro, Abou Cherif and Michael McCusker. Ryan didn’t go away, scoring three times in the second half, but was unable to net the equalizer.
It was a special win for Bradby for many reasons. It extends his Crusaders career, and it also gives him bragging rights among his family.
“Everyone in my family went to Ryan, so I’m happy I went to Judge to carve my own path,” said Bradby, who lives within walking distance to Ryan in Chalfont. “They all wanted Judge to win today, they were happy for me.
“It was a great game. The second half was crazy, but we did what we needed to do to advance. It was a fun game, I know a lot of their guys from grade school. We are friends. It’s so different when the game starts, though, as soon as the game starts, it’s a different story. I just want to beat them.”
Bradby is a centerback, and takes pride in playing great defense. He’s also proud that he’s one of the captains on the team.
Last year, when he wasn’t playing, he was just as involved as he is now. He attended every game and practice and did whatever he could to help his team.
During that time, he learned a lot, not only from his teammates, but from the coaches.
“I have a great relationship with (Judge coach John Dunlop),” Bradby said. “My family and coaches really helped me when I wasn’t playing. I was upset, but they made sure I stayed positive and patient. They told me I’d be playing.
“I’ve become close with J.D. since he met me at one of my club games. He’s made me a better player and a better person. I’ve learned so much from him.”
Just as Dunlop has been a mentor to him, Bradby has become a mentor to his younger teammates.
Judge has some experience, but it’s a very young team with key contributions coming from freshmen and sophomores. They’re good soccer players, but it’s always good to have an assist from the leaders. It’s a role Bradby loves.
“I have to be a leader, that’s my biggest job,” said Bradby, who hopes to play college soccer next year and is leaning toward majoring in sports management. “I’ve been here four years, all the ups and downs. Other seniors would do great, helped me a lot and they didn’t get to where they wanted to be. We want a championship. It’s a long process.
“I want to thank my teammates, the ones in the past and the ones now. Playing with them is a blast and makes my job a lot easier. I couldn’t do any of this without them.”
It’s not just his teammates who helped him, either.
During his recovery process, there were times when Bradby was struggling. But through it all, he knew he had someone to count on.
“I want to thank my mom for everything she has done for me,” he said. “I can’t count the countless times she has helped me through adversity and been with me at my lowest. She’s been super supportive every single year.”
Now he’s two games away from getting her a great present.
“We’re where we want to be right now, but we still have two big games we have to win to get to where we want to be,” Bradby said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”