EAST ST. LOUIS — His first name is almost an afterthought.East St. Louis High senior safety LeonTre Bradford goes by the sobriquet “Smiley” for his outgoing and cheery demeanor.In fact, some of his teammates don’t know any other way to refer to their all-state defender, who is the No. 6 recruit on the Post-Dispatch Super 30 countdown of the area’s top senior football prospects.”It’s always been Smiley,” Flyers senior quarterback Robert Battle said.Added senior defensive back Jaion Jackson, “I wouldn’t know anything else to call him.”
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For the record, Bradford loves his unique first name. The nickname Smiley was given to him by a family friend before he even became a teenager.”It fits, so I’ve just stayed with it,” Bradford said.The 6-foot, 190-pounder is jovial from the beginning to the end of every single day.But his mega-watt smile shines even brighter on the football field.”I make a play and the smile gets bigger,” he said.
Crete-Monee wide receiver Carmelo Steele (left) fumbles the ball as East St. Louis free safety Leontre Bradford hit him, and then recovered the ball. East St. Louis defeated Crete-Monee in a Class 6A football quarterfinal game at East St. Louis High School in East St. Louis, IL on Saturday November 12, 2022. Tim Vizer/Special to STLhighschoolsports.com
Bradford has seen smiling ever since his freshman year, when he muscled his way into the starting lineup at the tradition-rich program.East St. Louis veteran coach Darren Sunkett likes to gradually ease his players into the fire.Yet Bradford’s skills were so impressive he could not be held back.Now, the 17-year-old is considered one of the top defensive backs in the Midwest. He drew college scholarship offers from 18 different NCAA Division I schools before deciding to attend Purdue University.”He’s such an intelligent kid, we can play him wherever we want on defense,” Sunkettt said. “We can play him in the box, like he’s a linebacker. His skill sets enable us to put him anywhere.” Bradford shines in the secondary. He had a hand in 110 tackles last season in helping the Flyers to the Class 6A state championship. Plus, he recorded three sacks and recovered two fumbles even though opponents geared their offense away from the speedster.Sunkett considers Bradford the quarterback on defense. He calls the sets and make sure his teammates are all on the same page.”I like the leadership thing,” Bradford said.His nose for the ball and ability to sniff out a play make him a difference-maker.”He’s like a coach on the field,” Sunkett said.
East St. Louis Leontre Bradford during football practice on Thursday, July 27, 2023, at East St. Louis High School in East St. Louis, Ill. Paul Halfacre, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com
Bradford burst onto the scene as a freshman and made an immediate impact during a spring season shortened by COVID-19.He then recorded 85 solo tackles as a sophomore. It was the second-highest total on the team as he helped the Flyers to the state championship game, where they lost to Cary-Grove in a 37-36 thriller.Bradford came into his own last fall anchoring a defense that recorded six shutouts and allowed just 8.8 points per game.That performance helped solidify Bradford as a high-level college recruit.Bradford said he has always wanted to play in the power-packed Southeastern Conference. Arkansas and Mizzou were among his suitors.But in the end, he felt Purdue was the best fit. He was extremely impressed with Boilermakers first-year Ryan Walters, who was named to take over the program in December.”They checked all the boxes of what I was hoping for,” Bradford said. “They were on me from the start and they just kept in contact with me almost every day.”Bradford comes from good stock. His cousin, Robert Steeples, is the defensive backs coach at powerhouse LSU after a successful career at De Smet.Obviously, Bradford is looking forward to playing in the Big 10 Conference.But for now, he wants to close out his high school career with back-to-back state championships.”I feel like overall, we can be a better team than we were last year,” Bradford said.
Top high school football players: The Post-Dispatch Super 30 countdown 2023-24
Take a tour of our countdown of the top senior college football prospects in the St. Louis area.Join us each day as we unveil new selections through Aug. 23. Dec. 20 is the earliest date players in the class of 2024 can sign binding letters of intent with NCAA Division I and Division II schools.
No. 5: Caleb Redd, DE, De SmetREAD MORE: De Smet’s Caleb Redd hopes to build on breakout season sacking quarterbacksVERBAL: KentuckyOFFERS: Arizona, Ball State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Kansas State, Illinois State, Iowa, Iowa State, Lindenwood, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, Missouri State, Nebraska, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Purdue, UNLV, USC, Wisconsin.
No. 6: LeonTre Bradford, DB, East St. LouisREAD MORE: LeonTre Bradford’s defensive prowess brings smiles to East St. Louis fansVERBAL: PurdueOFFERS: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Ball State, Illinois, Iowa State, Indiana, Louisville, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Syracuse, UNLV, Wisconsin.
No. 7: Demetrius Jones, DL, Lutheran NorthREAD MORE: Lutheran North’s Demetrius Jones takes injury in stride, commits to LindenwoodVERBAL: LindenwoodOFFERS: Ball State, Colorado, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Iowa State, Marshall, Miami-Ohio, Nebraska, Northern Iowa, SIU Carbondale, Southeast Missouri State and UNLV
No. 8: Joseph Anderson, DE, WestminsterREAD MORE: Westminster’s Joseph Anderson blazes his own path on defensive side of ballVERBAL: IowaOFFERS: Army, Ball State, Bowling Green, Colgate, Eastern Michigan, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kent State, Lindenwood, Miami (Ohio), Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota State, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Toledo, Vanderbilt, Wyoming.
No. 9: Jude James, WR, Francis HowellREAD MORE: Versatility a major plus for Francis Howell’s athletic Jude JamesVERBAL: MissouriOFFERS: Army, Ball State, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Eastern Michigan, Illinois State, Kansas State, Lindenwood, Memphis, Miami (Ohio), Missouri State, Navy, North Dakota State, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Southeast Missouri, Toledo, UNLV, Wyoming.
No. 10: Jacobi Oliphant, DB, SLUHREAD MORE: SLUH’s Jacobi Oliphant overcomes sudden growth spurt to become lockdown defenderOFFERS: Alabama A&M, Alcorn State, Arkansas State, Ball State, Boston College, Connecticut, Lindenwood, Miami (Ohio), Morgan State, Murray State, Northern Iowa, Ohio, Prairie View A&M, Wyoming.
No. 12: Davis Schukar, OL, MICDSREAD MORE: Davis Schukar displays versatility along offensive line for MICDSOFFERS: Air Force, Amherst, Army, Bowdoin, Bryant, Bucknell, Butler, Carleton, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago, Colby, Colgate, Denison, Georgetown, Hamilton, Lindenwood, Middlebury, Navy, Washington University.
No. 13: Brandon Mason, OL-DL, Hazelwood CentralREAD MORE: Hazelwood Central lineman Brandon Mason makes move to defense from offenseOFFERS: Ball State, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Indiana State, Kent State, Lindenwood, Miami (Ohio), Murray State, North Carolina Central, Northern Iowa, SIU Carbondale, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee Martin, Tennessee State, UNLV.
No. 17: Jesse Watson, WR, East St. LouisREAD MORE: Jesse Watson makes all the right moves with switch to receiver for East St. LouisVERBAL: PurdueOFFERS: Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Toledo, UNLV, Western Michigan
No. 20: Jonah Logan, OL, VashonREAD MORE: Vashon’s Jonah Logan committed to excellence and is seeing the payoffOFFERS: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Ball State, Central Methodist, Lindenwood, Marshall, Murray State, Northern Iowa, UNLV
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