GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When John Brantley walks around Florida’s campus he blends into the background. At a place where Tim Tebow created a fan frenzy by simply breathing, no one recognizes the Gators’ new quarterback?
“I don’t look like an athlete, so no, not at all,” Brantley says. “If I don’t wear any Gator stuff, it’s very hard for anyone to notice me.”
All of that is about to change. As the Gators head into Saturday’s spring game, it’s hard to imagine a more daunting task in college football than the one Brantley faces this season. So how best to replace a legend?
Be Johnny B.
“He knows he’s going to be compared to Timmy, and that’s OK. That’s part of the deal,” says his father, John. “But I keep telling him, ‘Be yourself. Don’t be Tim Tebow. Don’t be someone you’re not. You’ve been successful at every level. Don’t change.’ “
So who is John Brantley? The 6-3, 218-pound redshirt junior from nearby Ocala, Fla., has been wearing a Gators jersey since age 3. Both of his parents are alumni, and his father played quarterback and his uncle, Scot, was an All-American linebacker at Florida in the late 1970s.
At Trinity Catholic, Brantley was the 2006 Gatorade national player of the year and broke the state record for career touchdown passes with 99, passing Tebow who had shared the record. He initially committed to Texas after being “blown away” on his campus visit, but says, “It didn’t feel right to me. I’m a Gator at heart.”
As he patiently awaited his turn, Brantley earned the respect of teammates.
“He’s just Johnny B., a great dude,” center Mike Pouncey says. “He came in with all the expectations, and he sat behind a great quarterback for three years and never complained about it, just learned from him and tried to better himself. I’m happy for him that it’s his time.”
Brantley has thrown 76 passes as a college quarterback, 76 more than any other Florida quarterback. This spring, quarterback meetings have been a bit lonely. It’s Brantley, early enrollee freshman Trey Burton and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler. “It’s a small meeting room,” Loeffler says. Freshman quarterback, Tyler Murphy, arrives this summer.
So how best to replace a legend?
Remove the cape.
To some, Tebow is a superhero, the greatest college player of all-time. In Brantley’s view, he’s replacing a friend, not some mythical figure. As for those big shoes to fill? They’re simply a size 131/2.
“I don’t look at Tim as the Heisman Trophy winner and all that good stuff just because of the relationship we’ve had for years,” Brantley says. “It’s tough to look at him any other way than Tim Tebow, a buddy of mine. So it’s not as bad as people probably think. I know it’s going to be hard because he set the bar high.”
Brantley is a prototypical pocket passer making any comparison to the bulldozing Tebow a stretch. “He has a great arm with a quick release and is a very good athlete,” offensive coordinator Steve Addazio says. “I felt last year that he would have started for most of the (Southeastern Conference) teams out there.”
Florida coach Urban Meyer said this week he will turn to Burton or tight end Jordan Reed, a quarterback in high school, in short-yardage running situations, just like in 2006 when Tebow relieved Chris Leak.
“There will be more under center, and we’ll have a chance to hand the ball to a tailback 8 yards deep, more play-action pass off of that kind of action,” Addazio says.
After growing up a Gator and learning from Tebow, Brantley says he’s not overwhelmed by what’s ahead: “It’s been my dream my entire life. I know what I’m getting into.”
And he knows his anonymity is about to end. “We’d step into a restaurant, and I’d be at the table for 10 minutes, and he’s still at the front door signing stuff,” Brantley says about Tebow.
“He kept telling me, ‘It’s going to happen to you,’ and I’d say, ‘It ain’t going to happen to me like that, not to your level.’ “
At least not yet.
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