Published January 2, 2012 - 7:02am
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After John Brantley committed to the University of Florida in December 2006 and subsequently signed his letter of intent, it was official – he was a Gator. Click here to read Part 1 of the John Brantley story. Brantley redshirted his freshman year, and entered into the 2008 season in a battle with Cam Newton for the back-up quarterback position behind Tim Tebow.
Newton had not redshirted, though, and had a distinct advantage over Brantley. With Newton’s agility and arm, he was a great match for Urban Meyer’s spread option, and had already received some playing time during the 2007 season. Coming out of spring practice, it was apparent that Brantley would be the first-string clipboard holder (and third-string quarterback), which should have been a surprise to no one. Coming in, Brantley was just not the right fit in the Florida offensive scheme, and now faced an uphill battle in the pursuit of playing time. Here was the former Gatorade National Player of the Year with the prospect of little-to-no playing time for the next three years, and the fall from glory was a blow to his confidence.
Brantley caught a break when Newton suffered an ankle injury that led to him take a medical redshirt for the 2008 season. Subsequently, an incident with a misplaced laptop led Newton to “transfer” to Blinn Community College, ultimately landing with the Auburn Tigers. Now with the path to starting quarterback cleared, Brantley was in position to take the reins from the uber-iconic Tebow. Upon the completion of the 2009 season, and Tebow’s graduation, there was plenty of hype about the potential that Brantley held. Some Gator fans even went as far to say that Brantley would be a better “quarterback” than Tebow – big shoes to fill indeed.
Going into the 2010 season, hopes for the Gators were fairly high. Having been a part of the National Championship picture for three out of the last four years, many were eager to impose similar, albeit unfounded, standards on the 2010 squad. What these people failed to contemplate, or remember, was that Meyer’s return from “retirement” after the 2009 SEC Championship Game also meant the return of the spread option for another season. Brantley was still the same immobile, drop-back passer, and because of this mismatch would undoubtedly be challenged to be consistently successful in this offensive scheme. Brantley’s previous performances in mop-up duty had set the bar high, unreasonably high, in the minds of some. To perform well for a couple of snaps at the end of a game against a mediocre team is one thing; to do so for a full game, all season long, against a difficult SEC schedule is another.
The season got off to a great start, however, so maybe these fans were right after all. Maybe Brantley did possess the raw talent to overcome the obstacles he faced physically to achieve success in Florida’s offensive scheme. By the time that the appetizers had been eaten, though, and the Gators moved onto the meat of their schedule, the challenges that some believed that Brantley would ultimately face came to fruition. By his fourth game as starter, Brantley was losing snaps to Trey Burton in certain running situations, and before the end of Florida’s SEC schedule was in a full-blown three-way rotation that included Jordan Reed as well. Although this may have worked for the Old Ball Coach as a motivational tactic, for the already-shaken Brantley it had the opposite effect. He was brought into games under very predictable circumstances (3rd and 9, wonder what they’ll do?!?!), and essentially set up to fail. This quarterback rotation set in motion the downward spiral that would completely shatter Brantley’s self-confidence.
After a season that started off with so much promise and anticipation, but was riddled with inconsistency and disappointment, Brantley considered transferring. Just the thought itself must have crushed his heart; to walk away from the school that he loved for so long, that he had dreamt of leading. Hope was found, though, upon the hiring of Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator in January 2011. Although it did mark the third OC that Brantley would play under, this time it was different. Weis brought with him a pro-style offensive mindset, and had worked successfully with the likes of Tom Brady, and even managed to make Matt Cassel look like an NFL quarterback for one season. Surely his presence on the Florida sideline would make all the difference for Brantley. This would be the catalyst needed to rebuild Brantley’s confidence, to help him realize the potential once thought to be there, right?
Brantley’s final season commenced with much the same promise as the prior year: 4-and-0 record with a victory over much-deflated rival Tennessee. Maybe Weis had in fact helped Brantley turn the corner, ready to put the past behind him. Then came the first leg of the gauntlet that has become known as “0-for-October.” The smothering defense of national-title contender Alabama proved that any perceived regeneration of confidence by Brantley was just a façade. Except for a game-opening bomb to Andre Debose, the power and speed of Alabama’s defense was to be too much for Brantley to handle…or even survive. Brantley was contorted out of the ‘Bama game late in the second quarter.
When he eventually returned for the Georgia game four weeks later, he was a shell of his already-diminished self. For the rest of the season, his throwing motion was hesitant and short-armed, due to indecision from his lack of confidence. His deliveries were frequently late and off the mark. At the first sign of pressure, he folded like a cheap suit. The damage was done, and now this once touted prospect will soon fade from the memories of Florida fans, who are already looking forward to next year’s quarterback competition between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett (my money is on Brissett).
With all of this said, do I believe that Brantley is without accountability for the direction his college career has taken – absolutely not. When given such a significant opportunity as to be the starting quarterback at a major college program, there is bound to be a level of adversity. It then becomes the reaction to that adversity that determines whether or not one will ultimately be successful. In the end, when finally given the opportunity to shine in an offensive scheme better suited for his abilities, Brantley was unable to shake off the specters of his past and rise to the occasion. Do I believe, though, that this series of unfortunate circumstances greatly contributed to his disappointing performance at Florida – absolutely.
But who knows, maybe we will see him again someday as an NFL backup quarterback…right Charlie?