Brandon McDougald was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in fifth grade and lost his left leg because of it. His brother's fight permanently altered Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald's perspective.
This is a story about a Seahawks defensive back and his brother, who lost a limb at an early age.
This is not a story about Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin.
Meet Bradley McDougald and his older brother, Brandon.
When he was in fifth grade, Brandon McDougald was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer that grows and spreads in the cells that form bones. His left leg was amputated because of it.
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Bradley — the Seahawks’ standout safety, who is two years younger than Brandon — didn’t know what cancer was. His brother eventually beat it.
But Brandon’s battle ultimately became Bradley McDougald’s motivation.
“It’s something we’re going to remember forever,” Bradley, 28, said after a Friday walk through last month. “It’s something that’s always a part of him. It’s something that he did overcome.”
In the process, Brandon’s little brother embraced an entirely new perspective. He learned there are far worse things than losing a football game. He watched as an unfortunate fifth-grader fought for everything, and won.
Bradley strived to be successful — and not just for himself.
“I use him as an example in so many different ways,” said Karl Johnson, Bradley’s former coach at Scioto High School in Columbus, Ohio. “(Here’s) a young man that just listened to what you had to say and was coachable and wanted to be successful and just wanted to persevere through life to get to where he wants to be.
“The way he made it is the same way every kid’s got to make it, whether they’re going to be an NFL star or go to college to be a teacher — whatever it might be. You’ve got to get through those tough times that everybody’s going to have.”
At the University of Kansas, Bradley started his freshman season 5-0, then promptly lost 37 of 43 games to close his college career.
Still, he kept coming. Want to talk about tough times? The McDougalds have seen tougher.
Brandon McDougald did not respond to multiple interview requests this week, but he opened up about his relationship with Bradley in a video produced by the University of Kansas in 2012.
“I really live through my little brother,” Brandon McDougald said in the video. “He played football, basketball all through high school, middle school. Just being able to go to his games and see him compete at this level is just really a blessing. It’s just amazing even to live through him and see him play and be doing so well right now.”
Added Turner Gill, Bradley’s coach at Kansas in 2010 and 2011, in a phone interview: “Work ethic was not a problem. Football IQ was not a problem. He was a good example of a guy that just came to work every day. You didn’t have to push him. He was self-motivated.”
McDougald may not have been the most physically imposing player, but the 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety never needed any outside motivation. Not when he went undrafted in 2013. Not when he was waived by the Chiefs after appearing in just one game in his rookie season. Not when he signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks in 2017, or was rewarded with a three-year, $13.5 million contract this offseason.
Not then. Not now.
Not while his older brother lives in Columbus, Ohio, with one leg and zero excuses.
“His situation definitely changed my outlook at an early age,” Bradley McDougald said of his 30-year-old brother, Brandon. “Take nothing for granted. Just go out there and enjoy it. Don’t get lost in the days. Make all the days count.
“All those cliché things you hear all the time, really apply them, because it really hits close to home when I have a brother who’s not able to go out there and enjoy the game that I love playing.”
All clichés aside, Bradley McDougald has made the most of his opportunities. Without established safety Earl Thomas for the majority of the 2018 season, Seattle turned to McDougald to provide both leadership and production. He responded with 78 tackles, nine passes defended and career-highs in interceptions (three) and forced fumbles (three), while starting all 16 games. He effortlessly adopted both safety spots and even slid down to the second level, depending on the situation.
He did all of that while nursing a nagging knee injury.
Pain, after all, is a matter of perspective.
“He’s making plays at safety. He’s making plays at linebacker. He’s making plays all over the field,” said second-year Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson. “He’s communicating really well. He’s able to talk to the DBs. He’s able to talk to the linebackers. He’s even able to put the D-line in certain stunts and things like that. So he’s been doing a really great job for us this year.”
As for the leadership aspect?
“He has been responsible for keeping that (defensive back) group together (without Thomas),” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last month. “He was the only guy that had the experience that could speak at all. Only (Shaquill Griffin) had played a season, so (McDougald) was really instrumental in all of that.”
Speaking of Bradley McDougald and Shaquill Griffin, their lockers sit side-by-side at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
They share a roughly seven-foot space … and that’s just the beginning.
“Just to see his brother be able to prosper through (losing his left hand at age 4) and get through that, it’s such a positive,” McDougald said. “I can’t imagine my brother being here, playing with me today.
“So just seeing somebody else get through that situation and be so positive, it’s heartwarming. It makes me smile.”
Better believe McDougald will be smiling when he makes his playoff debut against Dallas on Saturday night. He doesn’t take this game for granted.
He learned that lesson in the third grade.
“I just play with the perspective that there’s bigger things going on in the world,” Bradley McDougald said. “This is a game that we love and it’s very dear to us. It’s our livelihood. But at the end of the day it is a game. There’s more important things going on. It’s hard to look at it when you’re focused in on the season and you’ve got all these goals for yourself. But when we step back and take a look at it, it’s just a game. It’s something that everybody (uses to) take a break from reality and enjoy. So we just need to enjoy it.
“Even on my worst days I think back to (Brandon’s battle). Everybody doesn’t have this opportunity, so take advantage.”