ST. LOUIS—Sam Bradford grew up a fan of Troy Aikman.
Now he’ll wear his number.
"I grew up in Oklahoma City, not too far from Dallas, and I watched Aikman play quite a bit. I definitely knew that he wore that," Bradford said of the Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback who grew up in Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma before transferring to UCLA following his freshman year.
"That was pretty cool," Bradford said of receiving his new jersey. "They showed it to me upstairs, and I actually signed some autographs with eight on it for the first time. It’s been awhile since I haven’t worn 14, so it’s a little different. It’s still going to take some time to sink in."
It took awhile for the realization that he was the No. 1 pick to sink in as well.
"When we landed and we were in St. Louis, I think it hit me a little bit more as compared to (Thursday) night in New York City when we’re so far away from here," Bradford said. "It was pretty cool to land and actually be here, knowing that this is where I’m going to live and this is where I’m going to play football for hopefully a long time to come."
No. 14 is the number worn by Rams receiver Keenan Burton, so No. 8 became Bradford’s.
"I’ve had a different number every stage of my career and this is a new chapter, so I needed a new number," Bradford said.
Bradford admitted growing up a Steelers fan because "everybody else was a Cowboys fan." When introduced as a Ram, Bradford thanked ownership, general manager Billy Devaney, and the coaches to "make him a St. Louis Ram."
"I’m extremely excited. I can’t wait to get going. I’m just excited to be in St. Louis and and grateful for the opportunity that’s been given to me," Bradford said.
BEING THE NO. 1 PICK
Bradford is already somewhat familiar with the playbook, given a few base plays during his team visit on April 12. He said some of the "concepts and reads" are similar to what the Sooners ran. Bradford said his team visit felt more like his first practice, and he had a good feeling following his private workout on April 19 that he would be the first pick. But he didn’t know for certain until he received the phone call from Devaney Thursday night.
"You never know until you get that call," Bradford said. "It’s never a done deal until you hear them on the other end."
Bradford said he understands the magnitude of being the No. 1 pick and the new face of a franchise that has won just six games the last three seasons.
"I understand there are certain responsibilities that come with that," Bradford said. "I’m a team guy. I love being one of the guys, hanging out. I’m going to do everything I can to pull my fair share of the load.
"I still realize I haven’t done anything in St. Louis. There are a lot of expectations, and those expectations are high. My expectations for myself are very high. Until I get on the field and prove to people that I deserve to be the No. 1 pick, there are going to be questions. I look forward to the challenge.
"I can’t wait to get to work. Whatever I can do to help this team win, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m expecting a lot out of myself."
Bradford was one of three Sooners selected within the first four picks Thursday night, along with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and offensive lineman Trent Williams. McCoy went to Tampa Bay at No. 3 while Williams was selected by the Redskins with the fourth pick. Bradford said playing close to his hometown is a dream come true.
"I love the Midwest," Bradford said. "St. Louis is a great place to live. I think it’s very similar to Oklahoma City. I’m not sure what the exact drive time is, but it’ll be great for my friends and family to get up here.
"I’m excited for the opportunity. I have a lot of work in front of me," Bradford said. "I’m going to get to work as soon as possible, and then it’s up to the coaches to make the right decision about what’s best for the team and the organization."
Bradford began a ritual before his first start at Oklahoma of reading the biblical story of David and Goliath before every game. Although he stands 6"4', Bradford said he relates to the diminutive hero.
"David won, so I’d like to think of myself as David," Bradford said.
He won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt sophomore while leading the Sooners to the BCS championship game. Considered to be a top pick in last year’s draft, he decided to return to OU for a fourth year, but injured his right shoulder in a season-opening loss to BYU. He reinjured the shoulder a few weeks later and required surgery to repair the AC joint.
REHABBING THE SHOULDER
Bradford said there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty during his rehabilitation, but he came out of it stronger, with 15 pounds of added muscle.
"I’m as big as I’ve ever been," said the 236-pound Bradford. "I think that added weight and strength has added to my arm strength."
Displaying the same uncanny accuracy he had for the Sooners, Bradford impressed the Rams at the NFL Combine, his pro day, and with his private workout at how much harder he threw the ball.
Bradford confirmed a story that he dunked on McCoy while at OU. He also responded to McCoy’s comment at the Combine that if the two played against each other, he would "kill Sam." St. Louis is at Tampa Bay on Oct. 24. While there’s no guarantee that Bradford will be the starter by then, it’s something Bradford is looking forward to.
"He’s gotta catch me before he can hit me," Bradford said. "That’s a long way down the road, and who knows what’s going to happen when that date gets here. I definitely heard his comment.
"I know he’s got a lot of anger built up because he’s never been able to hit me in practice."
Bradford had made just two prior visits to St. Louis before April 12—to see Mark McGwire play for the St. Louis Cardinals during his record-setting 1998 season, and to play in a youth hockey tournament when he was "younger than" 10 years old.
A star basketball player in high school, and a scratch golfer, Bradford believes his athleticism is an underrated aspect of his game.
"One of the things I excel at is throwing on the run," Bradford said. "I can escape the pocket, move the pocket and create plays with my feet, just extending the play. That’s something I do very well."
BECOMING THE LEADER
The Rams will have rookie minicamp next week, followed by a series of minicamps and organized team activities before they open training camp in late July. Bradford said he’s got a lot of studying between now and then.
"The sky’s the limit with the amount I can learn during that time," Bradford said. "Talking to Coach (Steve Spagnuolo), and he said before training camp, I will have gone through 24 practices. That’s almost double a full spring at Oklahoma.
"I know I can learn a lot being around the veterans and picking their brains. I realize I’m going to have to work really hard to get their respect."
This article can also be found at The Alton Telegraph .