University of Florida quarterback John Brantley (Sr., Ocala, FL) knows all about pressure. In his first season as a starter, he had the unenviable distinction of replacing, arguably, the most famous college football player of all-time. Seriously, they called him Superman. Talk about a tough act to follow...
Now, heading into his final year of eligibility, Brantley will get first crack at making a splash in a new era of Florida football. The Gators hired Will Muschamp as their head coach last December, and promise to be a very different looking team when they storm The Swamp for the first time September 3rd. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Brantley and hear straight from the QB how all things are faring in Gainesville.
Scott LaPeer (SL): Let's go back in time just for a sec, John. Last December, the night you first hear the name "Will Muschamp" and find out he's going to be your new coach. What are you thinking?
John Brantley (JB): I was excited. I mean, not saying anything bad about Coach (Urban) Meyer-- he was a great coach and everything, but I was very excited. I've known about Coach Muschamp for a while now, and I think he was a great fit for the University of Florida.
JB: He's a very energetic guy. He’s very personable, you can talk to him anytime. He’s a great guy. Coaching-wise he’s sometimes still kind of like a positional coach. He likes to get in there, and take a hold of that defense and coach the team that’s there. So far, he’s been a great head coach to us. He’s excited about the University of Florida, and excited about being a great head coach it seems like.
SL: Tell me a little bit more about that "energy". I've talked to a number of verbal commitments, guys who still have another year of high school left, and the thing they all say they love the most is his energy. How does that translate over to the field?
JB: His energy for the game rubs off on the players. And that’s the biggest thing, it’s within his personality. It’s not a show, that’s just who he is every single day, and he just goes out there and gives everything he has for the program and for us, and that’s what you like to see in a head coach. I think he’s going to make the best come out in all of us, and help us become the best players we can be.
SL: Another big change beside a new head coach is new coordinators. You're working closely with Coach (Charlie) Weis now. What's your impression of him so far, and what are some things you're learning about him as time goes on?
JB: His track record speaks for itself. He’s a great coach. So, coming into Spring, I was just going to soak it all in and learn as much as I can. Since then, I’ve got to spend some time with him off the field. He’s a great guy, he’s a great family man, and he’s a genius – on and off the field – with his offense. All I’m trying to do is learn as much as I can, even though I have this short bit of time with him, because it will benefit me for the future.
SL: I read a quote from you where you said, after you got into the new offense for a day or 2, you didn't think it was as hard as you first thought it would be. What did you mean by that?
JB: Any new offense that you don’t know much about, especially when the verbiage is completely different, you’re kind of nervous, but once you get into it, Coach Weis has a great way of teaching and helping everyone to learn. So, now it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. But, it’s still tough and we’re still learning, and we’ve got to just keep learning and continue to get better.
SL: The generic term that's been slapped on this new offense is "Pro-Style Attack". What are your thoughts on it so far? What kind of things do you like about this new style?
JB: I like everything about it. This is what I’m most used to. This is what I ran in high school. It’s a play-action, drop-back. We’ve got the athletes to do it. We’re going to run the ball to open up the passing game. It’s different, it’s exciting… I’m all for it. I trust Coach Weis. I trust Coach Muschamp. So, whatever they want to do, I’m all for it. I’m just going to keep learning each day and try to get more comfortable with it every single day.
SL: Tell me something specific about the running game. I think people are expecting a little more of a traditional attack there; a little more of the old "ground n' pound" up the middle. Is that something you think is going to be a bigger piece this year?
JB: Absolutely, I mean, we’ve got the running backs who can take it up the middle and we’ve got the guys who can run outside, so I think we’re going to be able to establish a very good run game. We’ve got some of the fastest backs in the country on our side. Coach Weis knows how to mold an offense around what his players do best, and I know he's going to do that. So, coming into camp we'll have a good idea, and we'll figure out what more needs to get done, and we'll go with it from there.
SL: I don't think last year was the kind of year anybody wanted. For you personally, is it easy to say, 'That was last year' and just put it behind, or have there been times where it's affected your confidence? How do you deal with all of that?
JB: I have great support from my teammates and family, and if I didn’t have that support than, yeah, I think it would be tough, but that great support system helps me to brush it off a lot easier and just say, ‘Let’s move on and forget about it’. That’s pretty much what I’ve said since the beginning of January at the end of last season, because that’s in the past. There’s nothing you can do about it now but to move forward and try to play as best as you can in the coming season.
SL: Your thoughts on the schedule? I think most people agree this is one of the tougher schedules Florida's had in some time. What do you think about it, and the competition this year?
JB: The SEC is definitely 1 of the toughest leagues to play in year-in and year-out, and just the track record of the teams we’re going to play in October… it’s going to be tough. We have to have the mindset that it’s going to be a brutal stretch, but we just have to go out there and execute our plays, and keep our heads on straight. One slip up on either side can change the momentum of the game. So, it’s going to be a tough little run into October, but we’re prepared for it. We prepared for it all summer in our workouts into preseason camp, and we’re just going to keep working.
SL: This is it for you. This is your last year. What's it like for you being a senior and, unquestionably, a leader on this team now?
JB: It just means I’ve got to step up even more as a leader. I like it when people have to look up to me, and they trust me, and they know that in a tough situation we can prevail. But it’s not just me, we’ve got a great group of seniors on the offensive side, we had a lot of guys step up over the summer, and I think going through last year and then the off-season helped bring us a lot closer and will help us even more going into that first game.
SL: Let's talk a little less X's & O's for a sec, and maybe a bit more personal. What's it like being the starting QB for the Florida Gators, and being an Ocala guy from just down the road, born and raised in the heart of Gator Country?
JB: It’s fun. Any starting job at any school is great, but for me, definitely growing up, being a Gator, it’s just been my dream. Being in this position, and growing up watching Doug Johnson, Danny Wuerffel, I wanted to be in that spot, and now that I’m in it, I want to take full advantage of it, and with it being my last go-around, I’m trying to make it my best year ever.
SL: I know there are a lot of guys at receiver with talent, but not 1 who I think we can point to and say, 'That's gonna be your guy this year'. What are your thoughts on that group?
I think they’ll do well. Between last season and this one, they worked as hard as anybody. I mean, you're right, I can’t really pin-point 1 person as that go-to guy, but I think there’s a number of them – Deonte (Thompson), Frankie (Hammond, Jr.), Quinton Dunbar – who are capable of making big plays and I think there’s going to be a number of coming out parties this season for our receivers.”
SL: Obviously this is not your side of things, but since I have to wait to talk with (Dunnellon, FL native) Lerentee McCray, what do you think about the way the defense is shaping up, and where are there still some question marks?
JB: I think our Defensive line is going to be fantastic. During the spring, even though they couldn’t hit me, they got to me pretty quickly. So, I think they’re going to be very strong, and as long as they can stay healthy I think that’s going to be a big thing in that position group. We’ve had a few guys leave from our secondary, but I think we have some guys who can fill those holes and become a big part of our defense.
SL: Coach Muschamp's favorite way to describe the SEC... A "Line of Scrimmage league". How have you seen that emphasized in the way he goes about things?
JB: With the athletes we have, we should be able to make a difference there. As long as our offense can knock that defensive line back, and get our running backs to the secondary, they're athletic enough to get a few extra yards. Those guys set the tempo of the game, and if you can win the battle there, you have a better chance of being successful.
SL: Alright, last thing... Everybody's coming together right now periodically for summer workouts. It's an all-new era, there's so much to learn. What have you guys been doing so far, and what's the mood like among all the guys?
JB: We like to do a lot of team runs just to get guys together and make it tough just to see guys step up. We try to get the receivers and running backs and tight ends together a couple times a week, too. We’re a pretty close bunch. We’re all excited about (this new era). We’re tired of beating up on each other, and we can’t wait to go out there and play, and see how this conference plays out, and how we respond to each challenge.