There might have been one or two other athletes who can brag about it, but who else do you know who has lived, worked and played their entire adult lives in a 90-mile radius? Forest Wildcats. Florida Gators. Tampa Bay Bucs. Once Scot Brantley arrived in Ocala with his brother John from Greenville, S.C., they began building an entire branch of football royalty -- a remarkable legacy that will live forever around here.
That occurred to me this week as I watched the convergence of those forces at Trinity Catholic while Jake Slaughter was becoming the third recipient of the Scot Brantley Trophy.
There has never been a football player from around these parts better than Scot Brantley. Old timers saw him destroy ball-carriers for Brent Hall’s two-time state champions Forest Wildcats, where he was a two-time Parade All-American and reputed to have made “every tackle” (darn near) in a big game against Leesburg. Then it was on to Florida to play for Doug Dickey and Charley Pell, a choice he made over Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes, plus almost every major college coach in the mid-70s, as he became a fierce All-SEC linebacker. Meanwhile his brother John III became Steve Spurrier’s first starting quarterback and begat Scot’s nephew John IV who started for Urban Meyer.
Good vibes bubbled over at Trinity this week, where John III and Scot once coached together and John has recently returned to revive the Celtics state championship hopes. Here was an award named after Scot, presented by the Ocala Quarterback Club, to a player on his brother’s team who is a member of the Gators’ incoming freshman class. It was a veritable Brantley lovefest. Surely, the fix must have been in.
According to Todd Duffy, head of the Ocala QB Club committee, “Coach Brantley had nothing to do with his winning it – he was just one of 18 coaches in the six-county area asked to nominate players. We had four finalists. Jake just checked all the boxes.”
Those “boxes” are not all about football and say a lot about the character of Scot, who was asked what attributes he would like to see required for these honorees. He said he preferred somebody who was a senior and played primarily for one school, exceled at academics, embraced his faith and showed leadership in the community.
The football qualification runneth over for Slaughter. He was pushed in competition from his own teammates with two other Division I offensive linemen – Caleb Johnson (Notre Dame) and Garner Langlo (Auburn) -- making 39 pancake blocks and allowing zero sacks. Scot was thrilled at his selection.
“This may be one of the few offensive linemen to win it,” said Scot. “He’s a special young man with wonderful parents. Six-foot-seven. Three hundred pounds. And going to play for the Gators! He’s got a great life ahead.”
Take it from a man who’s been there, done that. Even through Scot stays around home mostly since life has presented him with a number of challenges as a result of football, he has been blessed with wonderful wife and teammate. Mary Brantley is a successful business owner and helps runs Renstar Medical Research with her longtime friend and partner Joe Sorrentino, all the while looking in on Scot’s medical needs. Scot is convinced Mary Brantley flew down straight from heaven.
Together, they have just taken residence in their new homestead, “The Brantley Farm,” a 15-acre tract north of Ocala, where animals are multiplying as the Brantleys drink in the sunsets which are framed by a 1,000-acre piece of land that will never be developed.
He won’t lie – some days are harder than others when fog sets in and he has difficulty pulling up small details. The medications don’t help the memory channel. Sometimes he get confused and frustrated, but for the most part he’s happy. This year he got to root home his Super Bowl Champion Bucs and revel, just a little, in his old team’s glory. Think about it: All of Scot Brantley’s teams eventually went on to win their ultimate championship.
Out on Brantley’s farm – “it’s not really a farm, but we have a sign that says that” – the glory of nature regales a man who grew up adoring the great outdoors of Florida. He’s thrilled when he sees hummingbirds, or cardinals, or hawks traversing his property. Sometimes a deer, or other wild animals. Not so much lately. Scot fears his domesticated pets have run some of them off.
“We have these new dogs, white, long-haired Pyrenees, BeBe and CeCe, who are always stalking animals,” he said. “We can see a hawk land in the tree and all of a sudden they’re barking at them. How do they even know?”
BeBe and CeCe joined the menagerie that includes a 25-year-old cat Jake, another longtime housedog Kuku and now a new cat named Henry who was recently gifted to them by Mary’s nephew because he was allergic to him. Happy campers all, but not without having paid a price.
We can’t make light of the struggles Scot has had after football, both mental and physical. A long time before concussion protocols were established Scot was already suffering the after-effects of all those tackles. He played a couple of decades of football and admits that he was sometimes able to disguise his head injuries.
Had he known about it, would he have quit football? No, he said.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “And I would do it again.”
Perhaps there is one more category that should be added to those Scot Brantley Trophy qualifications : Courage.