THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: MARCH 5, 2019
A COUPLE HOURS WITH SCOT BRANTLEY
I’ve been sitting at my computer for the better part of two hours trying to come up with the words that adequately describe Scot Brantley the linebacker. I spent a couple of hours with him at his Ocala home Monday afternoon and in talking about all the intangibles that made him a truly great football player, I was reminded once again that what made Scot great had nothing to do with football.
Okay, let’s get the football stuff out of the way first. Scot was a two-time Parade All-American (that was the biggest deal in those days) who led Ocala Forest to back-to-back state championships. On the day he committed to the Florida Gators, he had Bear Bryant on the telephone, Woody Hayes in his living room and Douglas Adair Dickey in his kitchen. “I never regretted picking Florida,” he says, “but you try saying no to Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes.” He could have added Joe Paterno, Bo Schembechler, Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne just to name a few he had to say no to. Scot also said no to George Steinbrenner. The Yankees drafted him in the fifth round in 1976 and offered him a six-figure bonus.
He was such an important recruit at Florida that UF added a helicopter pad so Scot’s dad could fly up from wherever he was building a bridge to watch Scot and brother John (signed with UF a year earlier) practice. He started from day one, made first team All-SEC in 1977-78 and would have made first team All-America as a senior in 1979 if not for a season-ending concussion in the second game against Georgia Tech. He finished his career with 467 tackles in three years and two games. David Little took four full years to set the all-time record of 475 tackles.
It was thought the concussion ended his football career but in the spring of 1980 he was cleared medically to play again and the Tampa Bay Bucs drafted him in the third round. While playing in 114 NFL games over the next eight years, Brantley’s body took a beating that required so many surgeries that the scars look like a road map on his body.
Okay, enough of the football stuff although I would like to add that I rank Scot as one of the two or three best high school football players ever in the state of Florida. The late Max Wettstein, the coach of Leesburg, which handed Forest its only loss in 1975 (Scot had 31 unassisted tackles in that game), described him to me as “ferocious as anyone I’ve ever seen playing high school football.” He said that more than 40 years ago and I still can’t think of a more apt term.
Greatness was a conscious decision Scot made. “Lots of good players,” he said Monday, “but you have to really want to be great. I didn’t want to be good. I really wanted to be great.”
It was during his high school playing days that life as Scot Brantley knew it changed forever. That was when greatness on the playing field ran a collision course with what Scot will tell you makes for the lasting kind of greatness.
“We all got on a bus in the summer and we drove up to Black Mountain, North Carolina for an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) camp up at Blue Ridge Assembly,” Scot recalled. “It changed my life. I started praying for people. During games, I prayed for my teammates that they could play their best and wouldn’t get hurt. I prayed that I could play hard but play the right way.” In becoming the prayer warrior on and off the field, Scot Brantley became the consummate teammate. “Best teammate you can imagine” is how Russell Kirk describes him. Kirk was the other inside linebacker on those two state championship teams at Forest. “A lot of great players don’t care about teammates. Scot cared. He still cares.”
He leans heavily on his faith these days and times. Pain from all the football injuries is a constant companion. He takes more than 60 pills a day, some of them to deal with the pain and the after effects of all those years of playing football, but other pills deal with Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago which means his brain short circuits, but it doesn’t interfere with prayer and faith. Pain and memories fade away but not his faith.
“My faith only gets stronger,” he says. “I can’t remember things like I used to but I remember to pray and I know God always has had a plan for me so there is nothing to be sad about, nothing to worry about. I’ve been blessed, Franz.”
I left Scot Brantley’s home Monday feeling uplifted, proud that I can call this man’s man a friend. When I arrived home back in Gainesville he sent me this text: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38). It was accompanied by this message, “One scripture I tried to live by.”
And I realized, Scot Brantley the football player can’t compare with Scot Brantley the man.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
The final week of the SEC regular season begins tonight with four of the five teams logjammed in a tie for fourth place and the two-day bye in the SEC Tournament in action. Of particular interest to Florida fans will be Mississippi State (21-8, 9-7 SEC) at 5th-ranked Tennessee (26-3, 14-2 SEC) and 6th-ranked Kentucky (24-5, 13-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (19-10, 9-7 SEC).
Tennessee is tied with 10th-ranked LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) for first place in the SEC. A UT win puts the pressure squarely on LSU, which visits Florida Wednesday night. The Gators already own a win over LSU. The Gators and Mississippi State are among the five teams tied for fourth so an MSU loss would benefit the Gators. As for the Kentucky-Ole Miss game, the Gators are also tied for fourth with Ole Miss and they play at Kentucky Saturday. It would benefit the Gators if Kentucky wins tonight.
Tuesday’s SEC games
South Carolina (14-15, 9-7 SEC) at Texas A&M (13-15, 6-10 SEC)
Mississippi State (21-8, 9-7 SEC) at #5 Tennessee (26-3, 14-2 SEC)
#6 Kentucky (24-5, 13-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (19-10, 9-7 SEC)
Auburn (20-9, 9-7 SEC) at Alabama (17-12, 8-8 SEC)
Wednesday’s SEC Games
#10 LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) at FLORIDA (17-12, 9-7 SEC)
Missouri (13-15, 4-12 SEC) at Georgia (11-18, 2-14 SEC)
Arkansas (15-14, 6-10 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-20, 0-16 SEC)
GATORS MOVE UP 2 SPOTS IN D1BASEBALL.COM POLL
Florida’s impressive weekend at the plate – 49 runs in a 3-game sweep of Winthrop – obviously raised some eyebrows as the Gators (9-4) moved up two spots to #5 in the D1Baseball.com poll. Vanderbilt (9-2) remained #1. The Gators are the next highest ranked team from the SEC. Other ranked SEC teams are (7) Mississippi State, (9) Georgia, (10) Ole Miss, (13) LSU, (15) Arkansas, (19) Auburn, (20) Texas A&M, (24) South Carolina and (25) Tennessee.
In the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) poll, the Gators jumped three places to #6. Vandy is again #1 and the Gators are again the next highest ranked team from the SEC. Also ranked from the SEC are (7) Mississippi State, (9) LSU, (10) Georgia, (14) Arkansas, (15) Ole Miss, (22) Tennessee, (26) Texas A&M and (27) South Carolina.
The Gators open a 2-night stand with Florida Gulf Coast (8-3) at McKethan Stadium. Florida will start redshirt junior righty Nick Blasucci, who will be making his first appearance of the season. Blasucci pitched for Florida Gulf Coast as a freshman before transferring to Tallahassee Community College. He was injured in 2018 and took a redshirt.
SEC CB/S NOTABLES AT THE NFL COMBINE
Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson did nothing to hurt his status as a likely second rounder with a 4.48 40 and a 36-inch vertical. He did 17 bench reps of 225 pounds and would probably like to add at least 3-4 reps when the scouts come to Florida’s pro day. Gardner-Johnson measured 5-11, 210 pounds.
ALABAMA: None of the Alabama corners or safeties ran Monday.
ARKANSAS: CB Ryan Pulley better have a good pro day after a 4.61 40, 11 bench reps and a 31-inch vertical.
AUBURN: Maybe no one helped himself on Monday as much as CB Jamel Dean, a big (6-1, 206) CB who ran a 4.3 40 and had a 41-inch vertical.
GEORGIA: Deandre Baker didn’t hurt himself with a 4.52 40 but he might want to improve on his 14 bench reps at pro day.
KENTUCKY: S Darius West improved his draft stock with a 4.39 40, 19 bench reps and a 33.5-inch vertical. CB Lonnie Johnson also had an excellent day. He’s a big CB (6-2, 213) who ran a 4.52 and turned in a 38-inch vertical.
LSU: CB Greedy Williams ran a fast 4.37 so his draft stock will hold steady for the first 10 picks. S John Battle ran a slow 4.67 and had an underwhelming 29.5-inch vertical. He’s got work to do at pro day.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: S Jonathan Abram probably solidified himself as a first rounder with a 4.45 40. S Mark McLaurin is going to have to run much faster than 4.77 at pro day to have a chance to get drafted. Jamal Peters 4.63 40 wouldn’t cut it as a CB but he’s 6-2, 218 and will shift to S in the NFL.
OLE MISS: S Zedrick Woods ran a 4.29 40 which will get him into a camp, but he still has to prove all that tape on the Ole Miss defense from last year wrong. CB Ken Webster is another one who ran (4.43) and jumped (43-inch vertical) really well, so he’ll get drafted. He still has to show he can cover someone.
SOUTH CAROLINA: CB Rashad Fenton ran a 4.52 40 and had a 34-inch vertical which could get him drafted in the late rounds.
VANDERBILT: CB Joejuan Williams (6-4, 211) ran a 4.64 40. That’s adequate for a S but not for a corner. At his size there is a really good chance he will be moved to S.
MORE SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
Former Texas A&M QB Nick Starkel announced he will be a grad transfer to Arkansas. Arkansas already has one grad transfer QB in Ben Hicks from SMU. Starkel could take a redshirt and be the Hogs’ QB in 2020 if he doesn’t beat Hicks for the starting job … Arkansas freshman D-lineman Billy Ferrell entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Since Chad Morris became the head coach, 28 players have departed for one reason or another … TE Gabe Angel is transferring out of Ole Miss. He’s a grad transfer with one year of eligibility remaining … Georgia is in talks to schedule a home-and-home with Florida State … Spring practice began at Missouri on Monday … Former Tennessee athletic director John Currie, who was fired after trying to hire Greg Schiano as the football coach in 2017, is the new athletic director at Wake Forest.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will retire in June 2020. A former point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina in the 1960s, Delany has been the Big Ten commissioner since 1989 … ESPN’s Mike Sando is reporting that at least one NFL GM says the Arizona Cardinals will draft Heisman Trophy QB Kyler Murray even though they used their #1 last year to draft Josh Rosen … The Philadelphia Eagles won’t pick up the option on DT Tim Jernigan, allowing him to become a free agent … With Nick Foles on his way to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jags front office might be very smart to draft a big time receiver such as D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss, a freaky 6-3, 228 who ran a 4.33 at the Combine and had a 40.5-inch vertical … Gonzaga and Virginia remained 1-2 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls. North Carolina moved into the #3 spot with Duke dropping to #4. Tennessee is #5 in the AP but tied with Duke at #4 in the Coaches poll. Kentucky is #6 in both polls and LSU is #10.