By Joe Scalzo
Bradley Fletcher only makes it back to Youngstown a few times a year, but he said a big part of the Valley never leaves him.
“Coming from Youngstown, you’re always working hard,” said Fletcher, a Liberty High graduate who plays cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles. “The hard work and the effort I’ve gotten from growing up in Youngstown and going to Liberty I apply to everything I do.
“It’s one of the major things I got from growing up there.”
Fletcher signed a two-year, $5.25 million contract with the Eagles on the first day of free agency in March. A third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2009, Fletcher had a breakout year in 2010, starting 15 of 16 games while making 75 tackles with four interceptions. But he battled knee injuries in 2009 and 2011 and fell back on the depth chart when Jeff Fisher was hired before the 2012 season.
After playing in all 16 games last season (starting four), Fletcher opted to start fresh in Philadelphia with new coach Chip Kelly.
“I got interest from different teams but the Eagles were always the most interested from the get-go,” Fletcher said by phone after Friday’s practice. “I’m excited to be here.”
Fletcher (6-0, 200), a tall, physical corner with long arms, is projected to start at corner for the Eagles, who will play the press coverage that Fletcher prefers. He sat out Friday’s practice after straining his groin on Thursday, but said it was just a precaution.
“It just got a little tight on me and before anything got worse, I decided to get out of practice,” he said.
Fletcher said one of the things he appreciates about Kelly is his emphasis on taking care of his players’ bodies.
“Whether it’s soft tissue injuries or hydration or muscles, he does a lot of things to help you out,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for him and I’m happy with how things are going.”
Fletcher was an All-Ohioan in football and basketball at Liberty after moving there from Cleveland just before eighth grade. (His mother, Vicki, still lives in town.) He then attended Iowa, where he was an All-Big Ten defensive back while graduating with a degree in health and sports studies and a minor in African-American studies.
Fletcher is married to a St. Louis native, Jacqueline, and they have a 11/2-year-old son named Caleb.
“It’s very hectic; he’s all over the place,” Fletcher said, laughing. “It’s fun, though.”
Two years ago, the Eagles acquired Pro Bowl cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha as part of the “Dream Team” approach that flamed out, costing longtime coach Andy Reid his job. (Not to mention the job of Chaney High graduate Mike Zordich, who coached the safeties in 2011 and 2012.)
Fletcher is part of a remade secondary that includes cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips. Only Nate Allen remains from last year’s starters.
“I’m just doing anything they need me to do here,” Fletcher said. “Whenever you move somewhere new, you have to get used to a new city but everything is fine. My teammates are cool and we’re all trying to gel right now.
“We’re putting our identity together, starting with these preseason games.”