Darius Bradwell chose Tulane instead of Louisville because he wanted to be a college quarterback.
That dream did not pan out, but the Green Wave picked up a potential difference-making running back in the process.
Bradwell, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound battering ram with speed, has stepped up in the first two weeks of spring drills. He could be the lead back next fall with the graduation of Dontrell Hilliard, the school's fifth-most prolific rusher and its first 1,000-yard gainer in eight seasons.
"He's one of the strongest guys on the team," coach Willie Fritz said of Bradwell. "He's a big dude, but the great thing about him is he has good speed and very nimble feet."
The key for Bradwell was wrapping his brain around the idea of not being a quarterback. The adjustment to running back — the position Louisville and other Power-Five conference schools that recruited him insisted he play — was not automatic.
After getting one unsuccessful series at quarterback in Fritz's debut game at Wake Forest in 2016 and mop-up duty a week later against Southern, Bradwell reluctantly shifted to his new position at the end of the season, carrying three times for 12 yards at Connecticut.
Still not totally comfortable, he rushed for fewer than 30 yards in six of Tulane's first seven American Athletic Conference games last fall.
The turning point came in the season finale against SMU, when he raced 56 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Buoyed by that big moment, Bradwell added a 1-yard score later in the half and finished with a personal best 80 yards on nine attempts, giving him 411 yards on 66 attempts (6.2 average) for the year.
"It was a big transition," he said. "Just the load from getting hit, it's a different type of running style from quarterback. Now I understand that. I've studied the game, watching NFL running backs and some of my peers in college. As I got older and matured, I realized not being a quarterback was probably the best. I believe in my abilities. I feel like I can have a great impact on this team.
"My I.Q. is very high. My eye coordination is pretty good, too. I'm an overall athlete."
That confidence is what made Bradwell stubborn about staying at quarterback coming out of Godby High in Tallahassee, Florida, where he rushed for more yards (1,213) than he threw (1,097) as a senior. He wanted to lead everyone around him, but he slipped to third on the depth chart, never attempting a pass.
He learned he could lead at running back, too, particularly with Texas Tech transfer Corey Dauphine and true sophomore Stephon Huderson as his backfield mates. Compared to them, he is experienced.
"As the oldest running back in the room, I'm trying to make sure every other running back has the same intensity I do," he said. "I feel like they are a reflection of me."
They look nothing like him, but few running backs do. Even in the non-tackling drills that dominated the first two weeks of spring ball, he cut an imposing figure as he raced down the field.
"You can see the light bulb coming on," running backs coach Jamaal Fobbs said. "You can see him being in the right spot and you can see his confidence continue to soar from getting better each day."
Technique was his biggest issue as he figured out how to run with the right pad level and wait for the hole to develop.
"Most of the time he has pretty good vision," Fritz said. "Sometimes on fourth-and-1 he starts thinking about running into the back of people. He needs to keep his vision. He's going to run through arm tackles."
And run by them, too. Bradwell expects opposing players to underestimate his speed because of his thick build.
When they think they have him, he will be gone.
"I'm from Florida, and we pride ourselves on speed," he said. "I'm going to use that to my advantage because a lot of people are going to look at me and think, oh, he's just a short-yardage back. I'm an all-around back. I feel like I can do everything."
THREE AND OUT
Coming off a strong finish to 2017, senior quarterback Jonathan Banks continued to look sharp. In Wednesday's practice, he hooked up with wideout Terren Encalade for a pretty touchdown pass on a go route and hit Darnell Mooney in the hands with a rainbow in the corner of the end zone (Mooney dropped it). On Friday, Banks connected deep down the sideline with Encalade, who made a diving catch, and completed two long passes to walk-on senior Brian Newman. Fritz credited Banks' knowledge of the offense for his improvement, and he clearly is airing it out with more confidence than at this time a year ago.
Fritz said senior defensive tackle Braynon Edwards and redshirt sophomore running back Miles Strickland were no longer on the team. Strickland battled constant injuries, getting his only three carries in a blowout of Tulsa last season. Edwards' departure leaves Tulane thin on the interior of the defensive line, but he likely would not have provided much help. A Curtis Johnson era recruit who arrived on campus about 80 pounds overweight, he finally slimmed down last spring before regaining some of the weight in the fall. He made eight career tackles. The addition of true freshmen Jeffery Johnson and Davon Wright this spring pushed him down the depth chart. Two more freshmen, Jamiran James and Alfred Thomas, will arrive this summer.
Newman, coming off major surgery, is making a strong bid for playing time in his final year. He transferred from Division II Hillsdale College in 2016 and looked good last August before blowing out his knee in a practice at the Saints indoor facility. … Dominique Briggs, Hunter Knighton and Jesuit product Corey Dublin got reps at center this week in the competition to replace grad transfer Junior Diaz (Florida Atlantic). … Tulane will take a week off for spring break before returning to the practice field on April 2 for the first of eight remaining workouts. Fritz said the Wave would have live tackling for everyone but the quarterbacks in an April 7 scrimmage.