Scot Brantley came down the mountain a changed man. And he has no regrets about looking back.

By FRANZ BEARD

GatorBait Senior Columnist


The memories come and go. It’s easier, most of the time, to

remember what happened 30 years ago than what happened 30

minutes or 30 hours ago. That’s the price Scot Brantley pays for

being a tackling machine. There was contact on every play. Shots to

the head were simply part of playing the game he feels he was born

to play, which is why he doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him

now.


“I’m in a good place,” he says. “I’ve had a really good life. I got to live

out my dreams. How many people can ever say they did that?”

Living out his dreams is one of the reasons the brain short circuits

these days. All those blows to the head from playing football from the

time he was a kid through high school, the University of Florida and

more than eight years in the National Football League are one of the

reasons he is the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He knows there will

come a time when even the distant memories will either be distorted

or gone completely.


While he still has lucid thoughts, he wants everyone to know one

thing about his days of being a sideline-to-sideline guy who felt driven

to make every single tackle.


“I really wouldn’t change much, maybe not anything,” he says. “I think

I’d want more time with my wife and with my family. Yeah, I’d change


that, but the other stuff? I’m good with it. God’s got a plan and I know

God’s in charge. I’ve got peace with where I’m at even though I can’t

remember things and I can’t do stuff I’d like to do. I’ve got peace.”

* * *

It is when Brantley put God in charge that he began to feel he truly

had a mission in life. He was already the biggest thing that had ever

hit Forest High School in Ocala, probably the best high school

linebacker the state of Florida had ever seen and the center fielder on

the baseball team. Life was good, he says, but it was a trip to North

Carolina for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp that changed

him both on and off the athletic fields.


“We all got on a bus in the summer and we drove up to Black

Mountain, North Carolina for an FCA (Fellowship of Christian

Athletes) camp up at Blue Ridge Assembly,” Scot recalled. “It

changed my life. I started praying for people. During games, I prayed

for my teammates that they could play their best and wouldn’t get

hurt. I prayed that I could play hard but play the right way.”

From the moment he came back from Blue Ridge, Scot Brantley

became determined to continue his own path to greatness but to also

bring out the best in his teammates. He became more of an

encourager, less of a critic. He wasn’t afraid to get on the case of a

teammate who maybe didn’t give total effort, but he learned to temper

the criticism with encouraging words.


The better he became as a teammate, the better he became as a

player, which only fed his desire to be great. He played linebacker

like nobody had ever seen, leading Forest to back-to-back state

championships in 1974-75. He hit .442 while leading the state in

home runs while getting Forest to the state baseball semifinals.

The New York Mets drafted him in the fifth round, offering him a six-

figure bonus but football was where he wanted to be.

“I always had this belief that I was born to play football all the way

back to when I first started as a kid,” Brantley says. “I didn’t just want

to be good. I really wanted to be great. I wanted to make every single

tackle. I wanted the contact. It was like I needed the contact. Once I

got hit hard – I wouldn’t say dinged or even stunned, just hit hard – I

felt like I was ready to play harder and do better.”


Against Leesburg his senior season, Brantley made 31 unassisted

tackles in the only game Forest lost all season. The Wildcats went on

to win the second of their two state championships with Brantley

making Parade All-American the second straight year all the while

becoming the hottest recruit in the country. Bear Bryant had him first

on Alabama’s recruiting list. He was a must get for Woody Hayes at

Ohio State. Barry Switzer at Oklahoma, Tom Osborne at Nebraska,

Joe Paterno at Penn State, Frank Broyles at Arkansas and Bo

Schembechler at Michigan all made their pitch as THE place to be.

There was only one place he wanted to be, however, and that was 40

miles up the road in Gainesville at the University of Florida.


“I listened to everybody else and I was respectful, but I always

thought why go somewhere else when I can take that beautiful drive

from Ocala up to Gainesville and play for the Gators?” he says. It

helped that older brother John was a freshman quarterback at UF.

On the night he said yes to Douglas Adair Dickey to commit to the

University of Florida, there was football royalty in the Brantley

household. Woody Hayes was in his living room, Bear Bryant was on

the phone and Dickey was in his kitchen.


He jokes about that night and says, “You try saying no to Bear Bryant

and Woody Hayes!”

* * *

At Florida, Brantley was a starter from day one. He was a first team

All-SEC middle linebacker in 1977-78 and would have easily made

first team All-American in 1979 except for the season-ending

concussion in the second game against Georgia Tech. In his three

seasons and two games with the Gators, Brantley made 467 tackles,

an average of more than 13 per game. The school record is 475, a

phenomenal total, for sure, but that was set in four full seasons.


“I might have gotten to 600 tackles if I had played all of my senior

year,” Brantley says.


The Tampa Bay Bucs drafted him in the third round. He almost

certainly would have been a first rounder if not for the concussion. He

spent the next eight years playing for the Bucs and carving out an

impressive NFL resume but injuries took their toll. He’s lost count of

all the surgeries but offers a guesstimate of 12. There will be more to

come. He still has a hip and a shoulder to be replaced.


“I got enough scars that I kinda look like a road map,” he says.

* * *

There were too many blows to the head to count.

“You play linebacker there’s contact and a lot of it’s to the head,” he

says. “The helmet only protects so much.”


He was doing radio in Tampa and was an analyst on the University of

Florida football radio network when all the blows to the head began to

cause the brain to short circuit.


“I started losing my chain of thought and I started having problems

putting some sentences together,” he says. “That was the sign that

something wasn’t working right.”


The something turned out to be early onset of Alzheimer’s, not

uncommon among former pro football players. Combined with the

medication he has to take for the various aches and pains from his

many surgeries, there is a regimen of more than 60 pills he has to

take every day.


Barring some sort of breakthrough in treatment and medication, the

Alzheimer’s will eventually rob Brantley of his memory. It’s not a

pleasant thought but he’s at peace with his circumstances.

“I wish I still had the ability to do some of the stuff I used to do,” he

says. “I’d still like to work, but I can’t do that. I spend a lot of time here

at the house reading my Bible and praying. Sometimes I read the

words and I just don’t know what I’m reading but I keep on anyway. I

know that I’m growing.


“I’ve got my dog and my cat. I’ve got the pool. Soon we’ll be moving

into a new house. I’ve got a great wife (Mary). She’s sent straight

from God. I’ve got two daughters, two grandkids and I’ll have a third

one soon.”


Is it the way he planned it? Not really. Nobody ever wants

Alzheimer’s and nobody ever wants a body that’s “all wore out from

all that football” but these are mere circumstances that he can live

with. Instead of talking about all the negative aspects of a memory

that loses a little bit more every day and instead of dwelling on the

aches and pains of just rising from a chair and walking, he’s quick to

point out all the good things that have happened. He points out that

so many people reach a point in life when they are consumed by

regrets or feeling unfulfilled because there were so many dreams that

went unrealized. It’s easy to sense the joy in his heart when he talks

about Mary, who is his soulmate, or the time he gets to spend with his

daughters and grandchildren.


And, since he believes that God has a plan and a purpose for

everything that happens, he feels he is fully prepared for whatever

happens next.


“If it all ended up today, I’m good with that,” he says. “I’ve had a good

life. God gave me plenty of blessings. I don’t know too many people

who are as blessed as I’ve been.”

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