Continued from page 1

And living well, too. Bridges matter-of-factly acknowledges his family’s difficulties when he was a child, but he doesn’t dwell on it.

“I didn’t think about it as, ‘My life isn’t normal,’” Bridges said. “My dad did a really good job helping me. Of course, I couldn’t get everything I wanted, but he was a real strong man and had a positive attitude, and he made sure I was happy as best he could. I didn’t really think of it as a struggle or anything.”

Things turned for Mr. Bridges, and his son eventually landed at Chaminade Prep, near Miami. There, Bridges was a strong student and a promising offensive lineman who caught the eye of Navy.

Culton had not recruited in South Florida before, and Chaminade was one of the first schools he visited. He stayed in touch with the lineman, but had yet to meet Bridges‘ father. That would come during a home visit in a high school locker room because of Mr. Bridges‘ unusual schedule.

It would be an atypical trip.

“I had kept calling and he said, ‘I haven’t had a chance to meet you,’ and I said, ‘Well, yes sir, I haven’t had a chance to get out,’” Culton recalled. “He said, ‘I told my son never to talk to strangers, and you’re a stranger.’ I was like, ‘Holy cow.’”

The meeting lasted about an hour. It felt like six to Culton. Mr. Bridges was not mean or rude, but he was persistent. He wanted answers to everything, and each of his questions seemed to spawn two or three more.

In retrospect, some of the concerns stemmed from an understandable misperception.

“It’s amazing because I was just blinded by what was being proposed,” Mr. Bridges said. “When I first heard he was being courted by a Navy recruiter, my mind never turned onto Annapolis or the Naval Academy. All I saw was an enlisted teenager going into the armed service.”

Ultimately, it would be Bridges‘ decision. He found himself the target of an eclectic mix of schools: Navy, Southern University, South Florida and Colgate. Navy provided an impressive opportunity, but Bridges wasn’t sure.

A few months before finalizing his decision, he visited a family friend he knew only as Teddy in the hospital.

“I remember talking to him about my options — ‘And also Naval Academy. I don’t know,’” Bridges said. “Before I even finished, he said, ‘Take it.’ Hearing his attitude about it and he did serve a long time ago, just hearing his input about that opportunity is something that helped me. ‘Just take it.’ That’s what he said. I’ve never seen someone so serious in their eyes.”

Finding his way

The Naval Academy isn’t for everyone. For a while, Bridges teetered on falling into that category. Yet his mind wandered for obvious reasons as he navigated plebe summer and worked through his first preseason camp in 2010.

One of his high school teammates, Ruben Narcisse, remained in touch to provide encouragement. Narcisse, then a freshman linebacker at Wyoming, sent Bridges some letters of support during the adjustment.

Story Continues →