By Jennifer On
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Growing up in Ohio, the heart of Buckeye country, Bradley McDougald learned a lot about life. The one aspect that sticks out the most to the Jayhawk senior is the importance of family.
McDougald-and his family-endured some tough times during his early, formative years, but those trying moments taught them all a lot about just how strong their family was in overcoming those struggles.
Bradley's older brother, Brandon, was diagnosed with cancer and eventually lost one of his legs, and what was no doubt a painful, emotional journey ultimately taught the younger McDougald his most valuable life lesson to date-family comes first.
Fast forward 10 years and Bradley McDougald is making one of the biggest decisions of his young life - where to go to college. McDougald had a lot of options. He was a four-star player coming out of Scioto High School in Dublin, Ohio.
He had offers from a lot of big time programs. His hometown Ohio State Buckeyes had offered him a scholarship and wanted him to play safety. McDougald initially committed there, but along came offers from Kansas and some other programs and he was intrigued by what else may be out there for him.
McDougald visited Kansas, where the Jayhawks were fresh off a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory. Most importantly, KU offered him the opportunity to play wide receiver-something he desperately wanted to do at the time. Coupled with the chance to play wide receiver and a very comfortable feeling around the team and the campus, McDougald took the leap and signed with the Jayhawks.
"There was just something about KU and Lawrence that really stood out to me," said McDougald, who is one of two Ohio natives on the Jayhawk roster. "The scenery of the campus is beautiful and then I really liked the opportunity that was presented to me with the football program."
McDougald arrived on campus and made an immediate impact right where he wanted to at the receiver position, starting six games. He hauled in 33 receptions for 318 yards, including a season-long 42-yarder in the season-opener against Northern Colorado.
As his freshman season wore on, McDougald's role expanded as he saw a lot of time on special teams, returning mostly kickoffs, but also a few punts. Then, the coaching staff asked him to also spend some time on the defensive side of the ball-and he obliged. For the last seven games of the 2009 season, McDougald also spent time playing in the KU secondary.
Playing in all three phases of the game, McDougald had his best defensive outing at Texas Tech, where he recorded his first career interception and had three tackles, while also recording a reception on offense as well as five kickoff returns and a punt return on special teams. He had truly done it all and it did not go unnoticed as he was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-Big 12 team.
Following the end of his freshman campaign at KU, there was a coaching change leaving all of the Jayhawk players somewhat uncertain about what the future may hold. McDougald knew exactly what was in store for him. He had found a home at Kansas-a second family.
One of his older teammates had made a comment to the team regarding how signing a letter of intent meant committing to a brotherhood with your teammates and that had really struck a chord with McDougald. Not only did he love his time playing football at KU, but he truly enjoyed the city of Lawrence and the campus life he had found. Kansas was exactly where he wanted to be.
"He loves this team," teammate D.J. Beshears said. "You can tell he plays for something more than himself. You can tell there's something more to it."
McDougald's sophomore season saw him start on both offense and defense, while still playing a large role on special teams. He started eight of the first 10 games at receiver before moving to defense full time where he started the final two games of the season at safety. McDougald finished the 2010 season with 19 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown on offense. He also had 13 tackles on defense, serving as one of KU's most valuable players.
Entering his junior year, McDougald made the full time move to defense, starting at strong safety in all 12 games. He finished the year ranked 12th in the Big 12 in tackles with 90, while also ranking sixth in the league in solo stops with 67. His play made him one of the top safeties in the conference as he also had 6.0 TFLs for a loss of 32 yards to go along with two interceptions and five pass break ups. For his efforts, he was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention by the Big 12 coaches.
Following the 2011 season, McDougald and his teammates endured another coaching change. But again his passion for KU and his family of teammates helped him persevere.
"Bradley really made KU his home," said Brandon. "He loves the Jayhawks and being a part of that family, and now our whole family feels connected to that love."
McDougald has continued to do it all for the Jayhawks on defense as a senior in 2012. He has turned himself into not only one of the top players at his position in the Big 12, but in all of college football. He ranks first on the team with 50 tackles and leads KU with two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
During his time as a Jayhawk, McDougald has encountered more losses than wins, but through it all he has always known he was right at home.
"Of course everybody wants to win, but I really can't look at my career here as wins and losses," said McDougald, of his Kansas football experience. "There's just so much more to it. So much more I get out of it. I'm happy with it. I wouldn't change my decision for anything."
No matter where he has played on the field and regardless of wins and losses, McDougald has always known as long as he was at Kansas he was right where he was supposed to be. That is because of his early life lesson that family is always the most important thing in life.