When Coach John Brantley III takes the field Friday night with his Trinity Catholic Celtics, it won’t be just the start of another season for the Marion County football legend. It will be the start of his second half century on the North Central Florida gridiron.
I don’t use the word “legend” lightly. Brantley is the only person in Florida history to win a state high school football championship as a player, as an assistant coach and then as a head coach – each after an undefeated season.
At age 64, Brantley’s resume´ starts with him being the first player ever signed up for the Marion County Youth Football League in 1970 – his father, John II, was one of MCYFL’s organizers.
As a senior quarterback at Forest High in 1974, he, along with his younger linebacker brother, Scot, led the Wildcats to their first of two consecutive state championships.
That led to a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Florida – arriving in Gainesville a not-so-stout 158 pounds.
After his UF days were over Brantley returned home, married his college sweetheart, Karen, and went about starting a career and a family, a son, Johnny, and a daughter, Morgan. His football days seemed over. Until …
Johnny was 10 and playing for the MCYFL Jr. Raiders and Brantley was being a parent sitting in the stands. One day, he yelled some, shall we say, suggestions from the stands. When he persisted, the Raiders’ coach came over and said something to the effect of, “If you want to coach so badly, why don’t you get out here and help me.” Parent Brantley became an assistant coach Brantley.
When Johnny’s MCYFL days were over, new Trinity Catholic coach Kerwin Bell, himself a former Gator quarterback, called Brantley and asked if he’d be an assistant coach for the Celtics. Brantley knew the deal … and accepted.
“He knew what I was bringing with me,” Brantley told me with a smile, referring to Johnny, who would go on to lead the Celtics to the 2005 state championship, be named the 2006 Gatorade National Player of the Year and, yes, play QB for UF.
Success meant opportunity for Bell, who left Trinity after the 2006 season to coach college football. The school called Brantley.
It was his first head coaching job. Over the next seven years he would win 77 percent of his games, go undefeated in district play, win a state title, and send more than 40 players on to play college football. He left Trinity after 2014 but promised he wasn’t done with football.
Six years later Trinity had a football coach opening and, once again, called Brantley, who was and continues working as director of recruiting for Cheney Bros.
Once again, he’s the head Celtic.
JB3, as some call him, loves being head football coach of the Trinity Catholic Celtics. The game-planning. The successes of his players — all of his quarterbacks have earned four-year scholarships. And selling the program to the community.
“John has great charisma, not just for football, but for the community,” Brantley’s pastor, Father Pat Sheedy of Blessed Trinity, once told an interviewer.
Brantley uses that charisma and his long ties to Ocala as TC’s biggest booster.
“It’s about relationships,” he said. “I’m so fortunate to have so many friends who are helpful and understanding. And it’s all about young people – and you can sell kids.”
After a half century of playing and coaching Brantley calls football simply “the greatest game ever.” So, has it changed?
“Nothing’s really changed about the game,” he said. “But the kids and parents are different than years ago. That’s why it’s so hard. My coach in high school could not coach with today’s kids.
“The kids today do not take to old-timey football. You have to make it fun.” Music in the locker room and shorter practices are among those changes.
Oh, and the kids are more talented, due to programs like MCYFL.
So, with a career record of 80-23 coming into this season, Brantley is in pursuit – again — of another state championship. And after all those championships, all those star players, after all the accolades, what is Brantley most proud of?
“I guess when you look back on your accomplishments, family really makes you the proudest,” he responded.
Good call, Coach.