C.J. Bradley didn't really know what to expect coming into his freshman year on the Davidson Day soccer team.
After making the Patriots' varsity team as an eighth-grader last year, Bradley established himself as a solid player on the right flank as an outside midfielder.
Bradley also gained confidence in his soccer skills on the North Mecklenburg Soccer Club's under-16 premier team, where he played well alongside other Lake Norman-area standouts, such as Hough's Tim Carpenter and Mallard Creek's Zach Wright.
But when Doug London took over coaching the Davidson Day program in the offseason, Bradley had some concerns about what his role would be on the team.
After earning a starting position at forward in the preseason, all-state senior center midfielder Jackson Goyette went down with an injury in the Patriots' first game, forcing Bradley to help fill his void in the middle.
At that point, the 5-11, 150-pound freshman knew he had to step up immediately for his team.
"I was definitely a little nervous about stepping in for Jackson because I know he is a great player," Bradley said. "But I knew I could do it. After the first game without him, I think we all had to step up and take on different roles."
Bradley played beyond his own expectations, as he quickly became a standout scorer, distributor and leader on the team, helping the Patriots to a 6-1-1 start.
Bradley has done most of the scoring this year for Davidson Day, with an area-high 25 goals in the regular season. Junior goalkeeper Austin McCarty has kept opponents out of the net, allowing only 11 goals and recording 10 shutouts in regular-season play.
"We had a lot of our younger guys step up when some of our seniors went down, and I think that made this team a lot stronger overall," London said. "C.J. really carried this team during that time. He was not only a finisher, but he got other people involved and made everyone better."
After the Patriots got their roster healthy, they went on another run, winning 12 of their final 14 regular-season games to finish with a school-record 13 wins. The Patriots, who moved up from 1A to 2A in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association this season, were also ranked in state's top 10 for the first time, checking in at No. 7 in the polls last week.
The Patriots began regularly beating teams they had lost to in the past by three or more goals.
Davidson Day made it all the way to the Southern Piedmont Athletic Association tournament final earlier this month, beating Hickory Christian 3-1 in the conference semifinals. All three scores came from Bradley.
The Patriots fell just short of an SPAA title, losing 1-0 in overtime to Gaston Day Oct. 17.
For his efforts, Bradley not only earned first-team All-SPAA honors but also was named conference player of the year.
"I really expected a lot of myself coming into this year, but I had no idea it would be this good," said Bradley. "This whole year has been big for our team, moving into 2A, being ranked for the first time and winning this many games."
London said Bradley has the confidence, talent and skills to help lead his team now and in the future. Bradley has the ability not only to score on the ground or in the air, but also to make his teammates better.
"C.J. has become a much more complete player this season. He's done a little bit of everything for us," London said.
After coming into the year as a nervous freshman, unsure exactly what his role would be, Bradley has transformed himself into a different player.
"Honestly, I don't even think about being a freshman anymore, and I don't feel like one," Bradley said. "I am used to playing against older guys in club ball, so I just go out and play soccer."
If this is just the beginning, it is scary to think just how good Bradley and Davidson Day could become in his next three years as a Patriot.