"It opens everything up for us," says Ray Brady, a Riverside junior and tight end on the football team. "Like Obama becoming President."
Nearly a century has passed since Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox Indian also born in Oklahoma, began shaping his legend as the greatest all-around athlete the modern world has seen. It has been 44 years since Billy Mills, a Sioux, ran to a 10,000-meter gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. They remain the standards of Native American athletic excellence.
Elders like J.R. Cook, a Cherokee who heads United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), an Oklahoma City-based agency designed "to foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development" of young American Indians and Alaska Natives, rank Bradford right behind them.
"It's not just that he's a college football player," Cook says. "He's the quarterback, a team leader. He's admired by his peers and coaches. They speak very highly of him. … And being a serious contender for the Heisman, that's not happened before."
He adds, "It's a little sad that you have to go back 40-some years to find a role model of this quality."