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Ahmad Bradshaw escapes Chicago to play football and serve his country

Army Sports Information Department

Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw spent his summer taking classes, fulfilling military training and working on his game at the West Point campus. He was a long way from home, the violent streets of Chicago’s South Side.

Here’s what he missed from June 11 to July 11 in the South Side community of Roseland that numbers 44,000 residents within 4.8 square miles: three murders, 17 assaults, 24 robberies, 24 assaults and six sexual assaults.

Those were only the violent crimes as reported by the Chicago Tribune. In that 30-day period there also were an additional 231 crimes of property and quality of life (motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, narcotics, etc.).

On July 31, the day Bradshaw reported for Army football’s fall camp, a 19-year-old male was shot in Roseland. On the fourth day of practice, two more Roseland young males, ages 24 and 21, were shot. City-wide, Chicago is on track to top 2,988 shooting victims in 2015. The 2016 tally through Aug. 7 is 2,430.

What an awful American irony Bradshaw’s young life represents.

Which place is the battlefield: Roseland or West Point?

“I’ve talked about that with another West Point graduate who is from a tough neighborhood like me,” Bradshaw said. “He told me when he came to West Point, he didn’t know what it was about.”

Thus began a journey of discovery, as Bradshaw explained:

“When you get here, it’s hard. It’s a tough decision putting your life on the line. But he said he decided if he was going to die, he was going to do it serving his country instead of for something stupid back home.”

Those words have helped Bradshaw with perspective. Cadets can back out of their commitment during their first two years at West Point, but once they start their junior year, withdrawing comes with the price of paying back the government the cost of an Ivy League education.

“That’s what has gotten me through making my commitment and still being here,” he said. “It has kept me focused.”

That’s also explains how Bradshaw, a junior, and sophomore Chris Carter are in a “competition” as Army’s starting quarterback. The sports cliché “battle” does not apply.

A year ago, Bradshaw won the starting job over then-senior A.J. Schurr, but he suffered an ankle injury early in a win over Eastern Michigan. A shoulder injury also kept him in and out of the lineup. Carter stepped into the breach as the starter for the final two games, a 31-21 loss to Rutgers and a 21-17 near-upset of Navy that Army led 17-14 at halftime.

“It’s frustrating when you can’t contribute to helping the team,” Bradshaw said. “I was there to help in other ways — coaching the younger guys, helping Chris when he needed help. Chris helped me when I was hurt. I’d even get water for the offensive linemen.”

Bradshaw, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound junior, is considered the better passer, but Carter, a 5-11, 170-pound sophomore, gained momentum with his finish to 2015. Third-year head coach Jeff Monken has kept the starting job open through spring drills and fall camp, leading to the Sept. 2 opener at Temple.

Their competition is close, but they are each other’s biggest backer. They worked together during summer workouts, mutually pointing out flaws to address.

“One of the special things about West Point is you meet people and then you’re put in tough situations together,” Bradshaw said. “You need to depend on those people you’ve never known and they depend on you. When you go through tough times and you see they don’t give up, you know you can’t give up. That carries over to the field.”

When healthy, Bradshaw rushed 20 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns against Fordham and 16 times for 129 yards and a TD against Connecticut. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns without an interception against Tulane. He also ran for 72 yards and a TD.

He’s shown what he can do physically. His goal is to improve his mental game.

“Games are about who makes the least amount of mistakes,” Bradshaw said. “My focus is on making the least amount of mistakes.”

Meanwhile, the violence rages on back home in Roseland. Bradshaw found ambitions beyond surviving the day: leading the Black Knights to victories and then fulfilling his commitment to serving his country in a time of war.

Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055

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