GAINESVILLE — Given the opportunity to rewrite a few chapters of his life the past two years, there's little doubt Florida quarterback John Brantley would make some editorial changes to the manuscript.
To say that Brantley's tenure as the Gators' starting quarterback has been difficult, and at times disappointing, would be an understatement.
A former Gatorade national player of the year out of Ocala Trinity Catholic, Brantley faced high expectations when he took over the starting role last season. Never mind that he followed a legend, Tim Tebow, who was part of two national championship teams and won a Heisman Trophy; or that he was a pro-style quarterback playing in a spread-option system; or that he had played in just nine games — most of them well in hand when he entered. Brantley was supposed to step in and continue to help provide the championship banners for the Gators.
It hasn't worked out that way. He is 14-8 as a starter, had his first 300-plus yard passing game last week against Furman and never got an opportunity to play for a championship. Yet, as he prepares to lead the .500 Gators into his final home game against rival Florida State on Saturday, Brantley has made peace with the way the past two years have gone.
"No regrets whatsoever," he said about his decision to attend UF.
Those close to him, coaches and teammates, don't dispute that. Brantley grew up a Gator, his father and uncle both played for UF. He boldly says he was a Gator before he came to Florida and he'll be one once he leaves.
But there has been pain and frustration along the way. When coach Will Muschamp and his new staff arrived in January, they were well aware of the criticism Brantley had endured. How he handled it has left a lasting impression.
"I like the fact that when I got here he was a beaten-down young man and he stood as tall as you could possibly stand," first-year offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "That's what I like more than anything else. You don't think these kids hear the boo birds when they go off the field? They hear it, they take it to heart. There is no doubt the team looks to him as the leader of the team. That's something I didn't know whether or not would happen, but they definitely do."
Following Florida's loss to Georgia last month, a game in which Brantley returned after missing 28 days with a high ankle sprain, the reality of his tumultuous career struck Muschamp.
"You walk over and you just see a guy whose father played at Florida, uncle played at Florida, (has) been a Gator his whole life, and he's over there hurting," Muschamp said. "He's fought through adversity, handled adversity like a true class person does. And to see him hurt like that was very disappointing for me."
As he has for 22 games, Brantley moves on. It is, he said, the only way he knows how.
And for that, his teammates are appreciative.
"He's been through a lot, but something good is going to come out of this," senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard said.
Now nearly 100 percent healthy, Brantley will try to leave Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday with the lasting legacy of having defeated Florida State in the season finale. Games like these can often create favorable memories and ease some of the pain — for players and fans.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," Brantley said. "Last home game against FSU. I wouldn't want it any other way. We've been through the ups, we've been in the national championship and we've been very low. I think that if we can get a victory this weekend it will definitely help with that legacy."
And maybe ease the temptation to always wonder what might have been.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]