Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Only an 8th-grader, Bradley Loftis is on the cusp of becoming Dallas ISD's first boys tennis state champion since 1929
If you drive by the vacant building on the southeast corner of Hatcher and Junction streets, there’s a good chance you’ll find Bradley Loftis.
The building is just a few blocks from the eighth-grader’s South Dallas home, and he spends much of his free time stroking tennis balls off the exterior.
It’s not an ideal tennis facility. The pavement is cracked, and untrimmed grass and weeds sprout through the concrete. The khaki-colored bricks send the ball in unpredictable directions, making long rallies difficult to sustain.
But that unpredictability is exactly what Loftis loves about this spot. The wall keeps him honest, and he never knows whether the return will be a deep lob, an awkward drop shot or a sharp screamer.
The 15-year-old chases down balls for hours at a time, honing his skills before, between and after scheduled tennis practices.
Loftis, who got his start with a $2 racket from a second-hand store when he was 7 years old, began his first varsity tennis season at Madison less than a month ago. Last week he became the third state qualifier out of Dallas ISD since at least 1983, which is as far back as the UIL’s online archives go.
And beginning Monday the eighth-grader will try to become DISD’s first boys state champion since 1929.
“I feel like I belong here,” Loftis said. “I’ve been playing tennis a long time. I just have to prove it now.”
DISD has produced state-champion caliber teams and athletes in a multitude of sports through the years, but it hasn’t been relevant in boys tennis since before World War II. Oak Cliff won nine boys singles and doubles titles in the 1920s.
Lynn Haines won a girls singles title at Hillcrest in 1961, the last time any DISD tennis player won a state championship.
Loftis didn’t lose a set throughout the Class 3A district and regional tournaments. He rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the first set of the Region II final against Celina’s Austin Hoang to win 7-6, 6-0.
Wilmer-Hutchins coach Sean Williams, who had his team scrimmage against Madison once a week before the district tournament, is certain Loftis will be the next DISD state champion.
“He is going to win state,” Williams said. “And by the end of his DISD career, he’ll be the most accomplished DISD tennis player ever. He will be.”
Loftis was held back a year in the third grade, so the Billy Earl Dade Middle Learning Center student is eligible for UIL varsity competition. If he’d waited until high school to compete, he would have turned 19 as a senior and been ineligible for his final season.
Loftis walks the half-mile from Dade to Madison each day after school for tennis practice. Madison has four players on its team, but he was the only one to win a match at the district tournament, let alone the regional.
The other three members of the tennis team have moved on to other activities, so Loftis practiced Tuesday with tennis coach Yolanda Harris, baseball coach Geary Walker and Madison baseball player Diamonte Harris. The ragtag collection has little tennis experience among them, so a successful return of Loftis’ powerful serve was reason to celebrate.
Yolanda Harris doubles as a girls basketball assistant, so the tennis season couldn’t start until the Madison girls were eliminated from the playoffs. With only three weeks to prepare for the district tournament, she scheduled scrimmages against Wilmer-Hutchins and Roosevelt.
Nobody came close to challenging Loftis, and the Wilmer-Hutchins players nicknamed him “God.”
“He can serve 92 miles per hour,” Harris said. “He’s the real deal.”
Williams said he would play five-on-one against Loftis in their scrimmages, which still wasn’t enough.
“It wasn’t competitive at all,” Williams said. “The kids celebrated when they broke his serve just once. I’m not kidding. They started celebrating and tapping rackets together and everything.”
Yolanda Harris, who played basketball and ran track at Stephen F. Austin, isn’t able to offer Loftis much by way of technical support. He’s already got a fierce forehand, a backhand slice and an exceptional serve. But she has been a powerful ally in improving her star player’s conditioning and footwork.
Loftis faces stiffer competition several days per week in training and youth tournaments.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, Loftis heads from Madison to the Kiest Tennis Center for additional practice. He’s a member of the Slam Jammers, which is a junior development program of the Dallas Tennis Association.
He’s the ninth-ranked eighth-grader in Texas, according to tennisrecruiting.net.
“The more I got him in tournaments, the better he got,” said Bradley’s father, J.B. Loftis. “And he was getting better faster. After a time I got to thinking this is kind of real.”
J.B. Loftis gave Bradley his start in tennis. He was actually looking for an activity for his eighth-grade daughter, Shkoryah Carthen.
He stumbled upon a garage sale that the DeSoto tennis team had organized and promptly signed Carthen up for a week-long summer camp. She enjoyed it, so he signed her up for another week. And then another.
Bradley Loftis, who was 7 years old at the time, tagged along for practices. He was instantly hooked.
Carthen went on to become a district champion at DeSoto. She parlayed her tennis ability into a scholarship at Division II Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis.
Four years from now Loftis hopes to get a scholarship of his own, and his berth at the state tournament is a good start.
If he reaches Tuesday’s final in College Station, odds are good he’ll face defending state champion Rayce Roberson from 3A tennis power Abilene Wylie.
Loftis likes his chances, but he remains in awe of his accomplishment.
“I still can’t believe I’m here, going to state,” Loftis said.
It’s certainly a long way from the vacant building at the end of the block.
Follow David Just on Twitter at @DavidJustDMN.