If John Brantley came of age in the Model T era of the digital recruiting boom, then excuse him for marveling at the Mustang-like speed and style of the current world.
The former Florida quarterback, now 10 years removed from his recruitment, stands in awe of how much the landscape has changed.
“It’s ridiculous,” Brantley told SEC Country recently. “The recruiting stuff is just unbelievable. … Back in the day, all we had was Rivals. That was it. But now they’ve got all these camps and showcases. It’s huge. It’s a huge deal. But hopefully, they just remember that these kids are just kids and if they get the opportunity to get a full scholarship and go on to the next level, awesome, that’s great.”
And about that massive magnifying glass?
“It’s good and bad,” Brantley said.
National Signing Day, and everything involved with its pomp and pageantry, has become larger than an annual reminder that fax machines still exist. On Feb. 1, one surreal ride for most top Class of 2017 recruits will end and another will begin.
But before pen meets paper, there are breathless Twitter updates. Fans dissect photos of coaches visiting desired targets throughout the country. (Is the player smiling? Is he not? What does it all mean?!)
Commitments and de-commitments are published online for fan bases to gobble up with the same ferocity that a child consumes candy from a PEZ dispenser. Thanks to Jim Harbaugh, satellite camps have become the latest sideshow in the wild world of major college football recruiting.
Brantley came of age in a different time, but he knows what it’s like to be the apple of many eyes. Before the native of Ocala, Fla., became a celebrated member of the Gators’ Class of 2007, Rivals labeled him as a four-star prospect, the third-best quarterback for his class and the No. 47 player overall. He committed to Texas in April 2006, but he switched to Florida that December.
His advice for highly rated prospects is this: Block the noise, swat the static and be true to yourself.
“I’d just tell them, ‘Take your time. Make sure it’s the right fit for you. You might fall in love with a coach and whatnot, but you want to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success and you’re going to enjoy playing for the next four, five years. That’s your main goal,’” Brantley said. “If you don’t play right away, it’s not a big deal. All these kids want to get out there and play right away. If you sit for a year or two, it’s not the worst thing in the world to grow up, mature and get stronger. Just take your time and make sure it’s the right fit.
“You’ve got to figure out who’s being real and who’s not,” Brantley said. “All these guys, they want you. You’ve got to look past that and see, ‘Do I see myself there? Do I fit? Does it fit my style? Do I get along with everybody?’ That’s a big thing. Looking back, it’s tough. It’s a big, big decision, especially if you’re highly recruited and you have all these people coming at you, all these coaches. And you’re thinking, ‘Shoot, I’ve got to get this right the first time, and I’m only 17, 18 years old. This is a big decision.’ It’s tough, but it’s fun. I’d tell them always to enjoy the ride. … Stay humble, enjoy the ride and find the right fit.”
Witness to Gators greatness
Brantley’s ride included many unexpected turns.
He lived in Gainesville for part of a Gators golden age, but he didn’t see much of the shine himself. He arrived shortly after Florida won the 2006 national title. Then he redshirted in 2007 and saw limited action behind Tim Tebow in 2008, when the Gators won their second national championship under then-coach Urban Meyer. Brantley played behind Tebow in 2009, when Florida went 13-1 for the second consecutive year.
Starting in 2010, Brantley stepped into the spotlight of a post-Tim Terrific era. But his production never met the promise that came with his anticipated arrival three years earlier.
Brantley threw for 2,061 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during Florida’s 8-5 season in 2010. A year later, Florida’s first under then-coach Will Muschamp, Brantley totaled 2,044 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions during a 7-6 season.
Brantley’s big dreams of using Florida as a launch point toward Sunday successes were never realized.
Still, he learned there was a larger world beyond his facemask waiting to be discovered.
“You go to college in hopes of playing in the NFL, and that didn’t work out for me,” Brantley said. “I didn’t have the success I wanted to as a starting quarterback. But if I look at the big picture of things, I left the University of Florida and was contacted by alumni who helped me get a job. … So just making those connections there made me realize, ‘This was the right choice. I wouldn’t trade it.’ Maybe looking back, you think, ‘What if I went here? What if I went there?’ But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
Brantley’s career audible
Currently, Brantley sells medical devices in Gainesville. He entered the industry with help from University of Florida connections, something Brantley values to this day.
He says he has no regrets about his path. Brantley’s story serves as a lesson in the build-up toward Signing Day: Not all highly rated prospects are destined for a red carpet walk to the NFL Draft.
Sometimes, a player must zig when he thought he would zag in another direction.
“I don’t see the magnitude of it until now, these days, of what happened at the time,” Brantley said of his recruiting process. “I think I was so naïve to it. But it was a lot of fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“Hang out with those older guys,” he added when giving advice to soon-to-be freshmen. “Figure out how they’ve done things, especially if they’ve been successful. When I got to Florida, they were just coming off a national championship year. So you kind of gravitate toward those older players and say, ‘How do you guys get ready for games, go through offseason workouts?’ … Figure out how to get your feet wet, settle in and enjoy the ride. College is a great time. You’ll have a bunch of time dedicated to football, but you’ll have a bunch of time to do your own thing. But enjoy it while it lasts.”
And as Brantley has shown, don’t be afraid to enjoy what comes afterward, even if it means a life without football.