GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Don’t expect Florida quarterback John Brantley to take a victory lap.
Don’t expect him to scream in the huddle, run up and down the sideline or lower a shoulder into defenders. Don’t expect him to wear bible verses under his eyes, go on mission trips or make any promises. Don’t expect him to be Florida’s short-yardage specialist or the team’s emotional leader.
Don’t expect him to be Tim Tebow.
“I’m just a regular dude from Ocala,” Brantley said.
A laid-back guy with a southern drawl and a haircut straight from the pages of a teen magazines, Brantley will make his first career start Saturday when the fourth-ranked Gators open the season against Miami (Ohio). His goal is to “keep this ball rolling.” He also wants to be himself, which is nothing like Tebow.
That might help him emerge from Tebow’s long and illustrious shadow.
“Waited three years, so I’m very excited for this one moment to come,” Brantley said Monday. “I’m just going to try to go out there and play my own game. … Just be myself. I don’t have to be anyone I’m not. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go out there and play my own game.”
Florida coach Urban Meyer applauded Brantley’s approach. Meyer even sent a text to Brantley’s father the other day that read, “Enjoy the ride. Your son is growing up to be a man.”
“I hope I get that same text someday from someone because that’s really cool,” Meyer said. “What he’s done here in the last year is exactly what we needed to have happen. He’s growing up. He’s the leader of this team, and he’s Johnny Brantley. That’s good enough for us.”
Brantley, a 6-foot-3 junior, spent three years waiting for this opportunity. He came to Florida a year after Tebow, knowing he might have to sit behind the bulky left-hander. He certainly could have transferred and might even have become a star elsewhere.
But Brantley didn’t leave — not after Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007 and not after Tebow decided to return for his senior year in 2009.
Instead, he simply served as Tebow’s long-standing understudy.
“I’ve grown up a lot,” Brantley said. “Taking those three years helped me mature and grow up and learn this game, and I got to learn from one of the best quarterbacks that’ll ever play.”
Not only is Brantley trying to replace one of college football’s all-time greats, he also has Florida lineage.
Brantley grew up in nearby Ocala rooting for the Gators and wanting to follow in the footsteps of his dad and uncle. His father, John Brantley III, threw for 1,334 yards and 11 touchdowns in 1978. His uncle, Scot Brantley, was a two-time All-Southeastern Conference linebacker for the Gators (1978-79).
The latest Brantley could be the best of the bunch.
“I think the way John Brantley plays is going to surprise a lot of people,” guard Carl Johnson said.
Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio tweaked the spread offense to tailor Brantley’s strengths, putting him under center more and eliminating many designed quarterback runs.
It’s not that Brantley is slow, though. He’s fairly mobile, but with freshmen behind him, the Gators don’t want to expose their starter to extra hits.
Plus, Brantley’s best attributes are arm strength, accuracy and anticipation.
Appearing mostly in mop-up duty as Tebow’s backup, Brantley completed 75 percent of his passes for 410 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
This certainly will be different.
No one really knows what to expect, either. Larry Rentz replaced 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier and lost four games. Doug Johnson replaced 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel and lost two games.
Brantley’s teammates have been overly positive about the transition. Why?
“It’s kind of like going into a battle with a general that you really don’t like and you really don’t trust,” Carl Johnson said. “If you do that, then everyone’s going to die. No one will have great success. We have to be behind him 100 percent, up or down. He’s ready to go.”
Brantley has gotten tips from several former Florida quarterbacks, including his father, Tebow, Chris Leak, Doug Johnson, Shane Matthews and Kerwin Bell. They all told him the same thing.
“I keep reiterating to him to be yourself,” said Bell, Brantley’s high school coach who’s now the head coach at Jacksonville University. “Understand your strengths, understand what will make you successful and play to those. Don’t try to be like Tebow. Don’t try to run over people. Don’t try to do some of the stuff that Tebow was so good at because there’s not many like Tim Tebow. Right off the bat, he said, ‘Coach, believe me, I know.’
“If he continues that mindset, he’s going to have a fantastic year.”