With help of Weis, Gators' Brantley out for redemption

by | CBSSports.com
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John Brantley is excited at the prospect of creating his own legacy at Florida. (US Presswire)  
John Brantley is excited at the prospect of creating his own legacy at Florida. (US Presswire)  

In the Gainesville, Fla., fishbowl, a reminder creeps through every crack.

At Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it's a newly unveiled bronze statue.

On sidewalks around campus, it's a lingering swarm of No. 15 T-shirts.

And in stores big and small, it's key chains, mouse pads and oven mitts bearing the letters T-E-B-O-W.

So, if he were at all territorial about his status as incumbent starting quarterback of the region's most popular sports franchise -- the Florida Gators -- senior John Brantley might be just a trifle annoyed at the still-palpable devotion to a since-departed former mentor.

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But to hear him tell it, that's just not John Brantley.

"I'm OK with it. In fact, I prefer it that way. I really do," the soft-toned 6-foot-3, 220-pounder said, with nary a glint of subterfuge. "I can walk up and down the mall three times without anyone recognizing me. I get to live an almost-normal life, and I love that.

"What Tim did here speaks for itself. And there's plenty of time for me to establish my own legacy."

It's a particularly patient approach for a player long groomed for a stint as lead Gator.

A native of nearby Ocala, Brantley played for an alumnus father at Trinity Catholic High School, broke lofty passing records -- including Tebow's -- en route to a Class 2B state championship and was labeled "blue-chip prospect" by myriad coaches and recruiting services nationwide.

His uncle, Scot, also played at Florida and spent seven NFL years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And, after changing his mind on an initial commitment to Texas, Brantley made the 30-mile drive up Interstate 75 to take his place alongside the two-time national champion icon, with every intention of prolonging the orange-and-blue dynasty after the first-round pick jetted off to Denver.

"Absolutely, it was my dream to play here. I think every high school quarterback in the state of Florida wants to have this job," he said. "I got to sit and watch one of the greatest college football players of all time and when it was my time, I was ready to come in and play the big games."

Twelve months later, the dream persists ... with a side of reality.

The initial year of the Brantley Era yielded reviews best described as tepid, with the would-be local hero throwing fewer touchdowns (9) than interceptions (10) as the Gators lost five games for the first time since 2004 while relinquishing a 20-year foothold in national postseason rankings.

New coach Will Muschamp did little to dull the din upon succeeding Urban Meyer saying, "Every position on our football team is open. Every position every day needs to be earned."

And to complicate things further, yet another five-star high-school phenom -- 6-foot-4, 235-pound Jeff Driskel -- enrolled at Florida in January and elicited instant support for a QB competition when a shaky Brantley completed four of 14 passes for just 45 yards in the annual spring scrimmage.

Outside critiques of the exhibition used words like "awful," "beleaguered" and "debacle."

It's the sort of adversity an athlete like Brantley, long accustomed to fanfare, rarely faces.

But it's at times like these, the QB insists, that the "coach's son" pedigree actually does the most good.

"It's something I learned from him almost every day, growing up," Brantley said. "Just keep your head up and keep moving forward. He's a valuable resource and I'm lucky to have had it all these years. We'll get together now and we won't even have to talk about things. He's been there. I've been there with him, so there's no need to say too much. I know what I have to do, and that's shake it off."

With mental escape as a destination, the Brantley men head on to one of the area's many golf courses or off to the Gulf Coast's open waters, where full-scale gridiron diagnostics take a distant seat behind friendly banter about foibles on the putting green or big-catch exaggerations.

"I like to think I'm pretty good at golf. I can keep up," he said. "I love playing with my dad, but whenever we do he always wants me to hurry it up. I like to take my time. I get my money's worth out there. When it comes to fishing, I'm a salt-water guy. There's more of a variety of fish to catch and they're the best ones to eat, too. I can get out there during downtime and forget all about everything else."

Until, that is, the football waves roll in again.

The Gators officially begin fall training camp Saturday in Gainesville, where Brantley will get his first extended exposure to both Muschamp and his hand-picked offensive coordinator, former four-time Super Bowl-winning assistant Charlie Weis.

Full-pad practices begin Wednesday.

Exactly 24 days before the "Swamp" curtain-raiser against Florida Atlantic.

Weis's traditional pro-style offense is considered a far better fit for Brantley's skill set than Meyer's spread, which saw Tebow log more rushing attempts (692) than pass completions (661) in four seasons.

And Weis stoked the confidence fire himself, at least mentioning his newest charge -- while taking great pains not to make a direct comparison -- in the same breath as a former two-time NFL MVP pupil.

"He's not super athletic, but then Tommy Brady was not super athletic," Weis said.

"I'm not comparing John Brantley to Tommy Brady, but just because somebody says you're not super athletic does not mean you can't be a front-line quarterback."

If public commentary is indicative, his teammates have his back as well.

"Oh yeah, there's a big difference in John this year. A big difference," said wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who made preseason waves in 2010 after his assessment of Brantley as a "real quarterback" drove Meyer to physically threaten the beat reporter who'd quoted him.

"He came in for the offseason training drills and the 7-on-7 drills and he was really in charge. He was taking control of the huddle and he was a lot more verbal, and he seems like he's ready to have a big year and prove himself to everyone. I think he'll do it."

As for Brantley, he claims to relish the opportunity at redemption ... or referendum.

"I look at it all as a big challenge," he said. "I know what happened last year. I know I've got some quality guys behind me. But it's having that push from behind that makes you better. My aim right now is to have a bounce-back season for both myself and the Gators.

"And if I can do that, then I'll have set a great foundation for the future."

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