Emari Demercado was a boy when his mother, Karen Bradley, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
He would read over her shoulder as she flipped through pamphlets detailing her illness and treatment. He remembered being there when Karen’s friend, who was a nurse, would come over to their home in Inglewood to administer her medication.
Emari and his older brother Emsley Demercado Jr. worried, but their mother assured them before she was actually OK, that she would be fine. She even continued to attend their football games every week, Emari in Pop Warner and Ensley at Reseda High School, as she was going through treatment.
“As a kid you don’t really understand what’s truly going on, but I knew there was some kind of struggle there,” Emari said. “Seeing her go through chemo … just seeing that growing up, I understood at a young age that we didn’t have it all that well.”
Now 23 years old, Emari, a running back in his last year at Texas Christian University gearing up to play his final college game — the CFP national championship — said he’s close to being able to pay his mom back for all she’s sacrificed for him.
“I just wanted to be able to provide for me and mine, be able to help my mom while growing up,” Emari said. “To be able to almost be at that stage and just, in a way, to be able to change my life, it’s something crazy.
“I never thought I would be here.”
Karen, one of Emari’s biggest supporters, will be among the loved ones, including his brother and father, Ensley Demercado Sr., at SoFi Stadium cheering for Emari on Monday.
“He’s blossomed. He’s out there, doing the adult thing and doing it right,” Karen said. “He’s worked at where he’s wanted to be and he’s there.”
Emari was not heavily recruited when he was in high school, first attending Carson, then transferring to Downey. At first, there were college representatives who came to see Emari. After an injury his junior year, “it was like he never existed,” Karen recalled.
Emari decided to attend Saddleback College, a junior college, in Mission Viejo after high school, then transferred to TCU a year later. For the last five years, he’s had to fight for playing time. He kept in contact with his Downey coach, Jack Williams, a longtime mentor of his.
“‘Coach, I gotta earn a spot, I gotta earn my spot,’” Williams recalled Emari telling him while being relegated to a backup running back.
He wanted to remain at TCU instead of transferring somewhere he might get more time on the field. He continued to work, even when he was home for breaks. He would go to the field at Downey to work out and do drills.
His resiliency led him to the biggest stages of his career. Emari made himself unequivocally known on the field in the Fiesta Bowl last week, replacing Kendre Miller, who sprained his MCL in the first half of the game.
Emari rushed for a career-high 150 yards, scoring a touchdown that helped propel the Horned Frogs into the championship game.
The standout performance by the 5-foot-11, 207-pound senior on such a stage was years in the making, but in no way a surprise. He had career highs across the board this season: 107 rushed for 622 yards and a 5.8-yard average. He had six rushing touchdowns and one receiving.
He’s blossomed. He’s out there, doing the adult thing and doing it right. He’s worked at where he’s wanted to be and he’s there.
— Karen Bradley, mother of Emari Demercardo
“This is the Emari Demercado that we know, his family,” Ensley Jr., who was also Emari’s running back coach in Pop Warner, recalled thinking of his brother’s performance in that game.
Monday, with the team unsure whether Miller will be healthy enough to play, Emari could get the start. It’ll be his first time inside SoFi Stadium, an arena so close to his family’s home that they could walk there in approximately 15 minutes.
Whether or not TCU comes out with a win over the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs remains to be seen, but Emari has no intention of walking away from football right after … at least not yet. He does want to play in the NFL, something both Williams and TCU head coach Sonny Dykes believe he can do.
“One thing I instilled in them is if you believe in it and you claim it, you can achieve it,” Karen said. “To see him continue to believe he can do it, it’s just awesome.
“To go out in his last year like this, up the street from home, it’s like the best birthday or Mother’s Day present wrapped up in one.”