On the Verge of greatness by JD Hollingsworth
Ever since the day John Brantley dawned a Gator jersey Ive been waiting for him to deliver the kind of performance he did last Saturday night in the Swamp. On prime time televison, in front of 90,000 strong at the Swamp and 400,000 more watching around the country, on the first first play from scrimmage John Brantley stepped in the pocket and delevered the kind of 65yd TD strike that NFL scouts drool over. In what might go down as one of the single most exciting plays at the Swamp in Gators history, John Brantley was making a statement. Against an Alabama defense that is arguably the best in the country and that fields a slew of players that will no doubt play on Sunday, he proved the moment was not to big for him. He put the Bama defense on there heels, had Bama fans around the country worried, and sent a message to all those who doubted him. John Brantley is for real.
Ill be the first to say I was a doubter. Id heard all the stories of him coming out of high school and all the coaches rave about his ability to throw, and I wondered if they were talking about the same Brantley I was watching play QB for the Gators. Theres no doubt Tim Tebow left some big shoes to fill, and Florida Gator football fans dont have alot of patience when it comes to player proggression. Quarterbacks that play for Florida are excpected to compete for Heisman trophies and National Championships right out of the gate. We figure if you come to Florida you must be one of the best, if not the best QB in the country coming out of HS and posess the attributes of a greek god to become the starter at Florida anyway. The truth is though, Tim Tebow might be a once in a generation player and not everybody is going to come right in and make the kind of impact that he did. So whoever came after him was going to fall short of the standards we had become accustomed to anyway.
I give at least half of the blame for Brantelys poor performance last year to the coaching staff. They tried adamantley to make him an option QB, and run the same kind of plays Tebow made famous at Florida. It became painfully obvious that Brantley was not that QB, he didnt posses that skillset to run which is required of an option QB. Addazio and Meyer refused to change the offense to adapt to Brantleys skillset, which is that of a traditional, pro style pocket QB. Granted Brantely left much to be desired on the few attempts he did throw the ball, he also has played with underperforming and lackluster recievers in his time at Florida. The fact is Meyer and Addazio had Brantley set up for failure from the jump. They failed to let him progress as a passer and failed to build his confidence as a team leader and a QB.
When I finally heard the old regime was out and new Head Coach Will Muschamp hired renowned play caller Charlie Weis I breathed a sigh of relief. I still didnt have much faith in Brantley, but I figured anything would be better than last year. Right out of the gate it was obvious Weis was playing to Brantleys strengths with the offensive play calls he was making . The first few games Brantley wasnt required to do much but dump the ball off to Rainey and Demps not turn the ball over and be a good game manager. He played well, but still had come up short on a few big pass plays that Charlie dialed up, but I'll give at least half the blame to the inability of the recievers to make a play or get open. So for me the jury was still out on John, could he be the leader that we needed, could he deliver in the crunch time? Slowly but surely I saw proggression, he starting playing with some confidence. That confidence he wasnt able to find while playing under Meyer. But Charlie Weis saw the real potential in John, and even though the record said otherwise he continued to call the kind of plays that required him to show he was either the gunslinger they said he could be or he was still the insecure QB that we had seen in the past.
Well Brantley did something I didnt think was possible last Saturday night against 3rd ranked Alabama. He earned my respect, and I think he earned the respect of not only Gator fans, but college football fans period. He was the only thing that could keep the Gators in the game with the Tide. With absoloutley no help from the running game, the Gators moved up and down the field on the Tide behind the arm of Brantley. Who would have thought, John Brantley would be the Gator to step up and put the team on his shoulders? Granted he threw a costly pick six, he stil was the only hope the Gators ever had of staying in the game with the Tide, and he was moving the offense again when he went out of the game for good with what looked to be a very painful injury. Carried off the field along with Brantley was any chance the Gators had of pulling the upset on the Tide. I dont know the timetable for his return, but watching the replay on t.v. it doesnt look good..
The worst part about it is he finally turned the corner and became the leader and the game changer that we have come to expect from our QBs at Florida. Had he finished the game, who knows what kind of stats he would have put up. He might have had the kind of game that would have forced him in the faces of NFL teams watching around the country. It could have been the turning point of his football playing career, catupulting his status as a draft prospect and giving him the kind of confidence going forward that would gurantee more greatness to come. But what could have been the turning point now looks like it might be the pinnacle of his career. Im hoping Brantley makes a speedy comeback, but from what I know about high ankle sprains an early return to the playing field is unrealistic. Ive been told a high ankle sprain is one of the slowest healing injuries a player can get that doesnt require surgery. .
It could not have come at a worse time with Florida going to Baton Rouge this Saturday to play the #1 ranked team in the Nation L.S.U. Another great performance could have pushed him to the forefront of college quarterbacks going in the draft this year. Brantley is a senior, he wont ever get this kind of chance again. By the time his ankle heals up NFL scouts will probably have all but forgotten about old Johnny Brantley. But Ill tell you one thing, even if John Brantley never plays another snap for the Gators he can always find comfort in the fact that he won the respect and admiration of Gator Nation in the Swamp last saturday, and no matter what Ill remember him for the strike of a 65yd TD pass he threw on the first play of the game to shock the Tide, with the whole country watching. But Ill always wonder "what if". Go Gators.