By Trey Williams
Allen Bradley piled up the points at Range Elementary School while growing up in Watauga, which prompted Boones Creek basketball coach Bobby Snyder to convince the Carter County product to become a Bar.
And while Bradley went on to become a multi-year all-conference player for Snyder’s Washington County program on the hardwood, it was the football field where his legend grew tallest.
“I went to Boones Creek thanks to Coach Snyder,” Bradley said Sunday. “He and some other coach came out there to my house (in Watauga) and asked me if I wanted to go to school out there. And I said, ‘Okay.’ They said, ‘It’s time for this transition here.’ I ain’t seen no black out there nowhere. When I went out there Cecil Rutledge was the one (African-American).”
Bradley drew inspiration from Johnny Russaw, who played at Langston High School in Johnson City before becoming ETSU’s first African-American scholarship player.
“Johnny Russaw was really good,” Bradley said.
Oddly enough, Bradley didn’t enjoy basketball nearly as much as football. It’s understandable.
Bradley, who said he enjoyed playing with teammates such as Larry Fox, Charles Pennington and quarterback Frankie Barnes, was a natural on the gridiron. He was the Tennessee scoring champion (207 points) for Jerry Lonon’s Bars as a senior in the fall of 1969. He rushed for 23 touchdowns, caught four TD passes and scored one time apiece via kick, punt and interception returns.
“Allen is probably the best running back I’ve ever seen,” Lonon said. “He could change direction without losing speed. On kickoffs and punt returns people wouldn’t kick to him, because his average punt returns and kickoffs were 40-plus yards.”
Lonon was the third head coach Bradley played for in as many years at Boones Creek, which was not a football hotbed. But by the time he was a senior, the program recorded its most victories (seven) in a season.
Bradley carried 189 times for 1,659 yards as a senior. He also caught 12 passes for 392 yards, returned three interceptions a combined 69 yards and was 8-for-21 passing for 161 yards and two TDs.
He averaged 33.7 yards on six punt returns and 40.4 yards on five kick returns. Bradley also punted 27 times for a 43.1-yard average.
“Teams just quit kicking it to him,” Lonon said. “He was something else.”
Bradley rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns while helping Boones Creek build a 20-16 halftime lead at Happy Valley his senior season. But he sustained an injury and didn’t play in the second half – and the Warriors prevailed.
He returned a kick 80 yards for a TD in a 39-6 loss to Cranberry (North Carolina) as a sophomore. The Bars had 16 players Bradley’s sophomore season.
“I didn’t have a chance, really,” he said with a chuckle. “What I did, I did on my own.”
Bradley scored eight TDs as a freshman. He scored 40 points (six TDs, two conversion runs) in a 48-0 win against Unaka as a senior.
One of his favorite games was when the Bars beat Jonesborough (a modern day Musket Bowl of sorts) 20-16 when he was a senior. Bradley, who would occasionally take shotgun snaps, threw a 31-yard TD pass to Gary Bacon against the Tigers for the game’s first score. And he ran for 37- and 1-yard TDs and a two-point conversion while helping the Bars overcome a 16-6 deficit in the fourth quarter.
Future Virginia Tech player Sandy Johnson was a sophomore for Jonesboro in that game. Johnson tallied 13 unassisted tackles and rushed 18 times for 83 yards and a TD.
Bradley carried 20 times for 144 yards for the Bars, who finished the season with a program-best 7-3-1 record. Jonesboro finished with a 6-4 record.
Although a number of coaches disagree, Lonon said he thought Bradley was a better running back than Johnson. Lonon coached Johnson at Crockett when he scored eight TDs in a 74-0 defeat of Daniel Boone in the first annual Musket Bowl.
“Bradley didn’t have any blocking,” Lonon said. “That was a big difference. We had a guard for a fullback and we’d give that ball to Bradley and he’d go. And you just kept pounding him.”
Lonon encouraged Bradley to go to Lees-McRae, which had a junior college football program at the time.
“Lees-McRae has had some great football players,” first-year Bobcats coach Jim Osborne said in a statement from the school, “but this is the signing of the decade.”
But Bradley was gone in a flash.
“I went up there,” Bradley said. “Coach Lonon took me up there. But when I got there, I got a phone call from my girlfriend – and I had to leave.”
Bradley eventually played as a freshman two years later in 1972 at Ventura College in California. He had 106 carries for 640 yards in two seasons at Ventura, which produced NFL defensive back Eric Turner and NFL wide receiver Chris Thomas. Injuries slowed him his sophomore season but Lonon said Bradley could’ve surely returned kicks or carried the football in the Pac 10 if things had been different in other facets of his life.
Bradley, who lives in Florida and worked when the TVA was constructing the Phipps Bend Nuclear Power Plant in Rogersville, worked much of his life as a carpenter.
His son, Brandon Sensabaugh, played football at Dobyns-Bennett, as did his grandsons, Chris and Nick Sensabaugh.
“He was an awesome basketball player, too,” Lononsaid. “Snyder held him back. They wouldn’t turn him loose. He could score. And in track he’d go out there and win the discus and shot puts.”
Bradley apparently wasn’t always held back on the basketball court. He outscored Johnson County 39-38 in a 75-38 Bars victory in Mountain City in February of his senior season. He led Boones Creek with 430 points that season (14.3 ppg) and the Bars went 21-9, including a 12-0 record in the Washington County League.
Bradley scored 27 points while leading the Bars to a win against Fall Branch his senior season. It was the 200th career victory of Snyder, who has commended Bradley’s contributions a number of times through the years.
“I didn’t really like basketball,” Bradley said. “But I know when I was in seventh grade I’d get about 30-40 points a game at Range Elementary up there in Watauga. That’s how I ended up at Boones Creek.”