GAINESVILLE — John Brantley stood near the corner of the north end zone at the Louisiana Superdome on Friday night and watched as senior QB Tim Tebow took his final curtain call, jogging around the stadium shaking hands and high-fiving jubilant Gator fans.
For the past two years, Brantley has patiently played the role of Tebow's backup — watching, learning, playing sporadically in games that were no longer in question. But after Florida's victory over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, the reality finally hit.
Brantley's wait is over. The soon-to-be redshirt junior will enter spring practice as the projected 2010 starter.
"I guess you could say I feel a little different," Brantley said. "I've been waiting for this opportunity, not even since I've gotten here, but since I was a little kid, you know? It's all starting to come into reality for me. It's weird, I'll tell you that."
It's not as if Brantley will be starting from scratch. He has played in 18 career games and been preparing to take over for quite some time.
"That's been a year-round process (getting him ready for 2010)," quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler said. "We've been trying to treat Johnny like he's been the starter from training camp on. To become a quarterback here and play and fulfill all the expectations that are going to occur whenever Tim leaves, that process is ongoing. Without a doubt he's coming along real well. He's right on schedule, and it's going to be an exciting year for that young man. … What we've got to do is have the best year of our lives and get him ready to walk into a place where the expectations are high."
No regrets: In many ways it was a tough year for senior LB Brandon Spikes. He battled injuries and was embroiled in a controversy after his eye-gouging incident with Georgia's Washaun Ealey, and the Gators didn't play for that third national title Spikes so badly wanted.
Yet when it was all over, Spikes said he didn't regret any part of his four years.
"I dedicated these whole entire four years of my life to Florida," Spikes said. "The fans were great. It's been a good run. It's just time to move on to bigger and better things."
Spikes chose to return for his senior season but said he won't be giving unsolicited advice to the juniors who are debating whether to stay or leave early for the NFL.
"People have their different situations," he said. "For me, personally, coming back was the best thing that ever happened to me. I just love Florida, I love Gainesville. When I'm done (in the NFL), I might move to Gainesville and cheer the Gators on. If they come to me, I let them know what I think. But they are their own men."
Highlight bound: How do you manage to make the ESPN highlights in a game in which you scored just five points? Hit a 75-foot shot at the buzzer to win the game. Florida junior F Chandler Parsons didn't have a single field goal until his shot at the buzzer, which gave the Gators a 62-61 win over N.C. State on Sunday afternoon. The Gators (11-3) open SEC play at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Watching, waiting: Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is officially running things at Florida as interim head coach, although athletic officials are still working out the specific details of this transition while Urban Meyer takes an indefinite leave of absence. Addazio said his main goals are to keep the program running as smoothly and at a high level as Meyer did, and to ensure that Meyer knows the program is in good hands while he's concentrating on his health and family.
"It's very hard," Addazio said. "You don't want to see anybody you care about go through what he's going through right now. That's why it's so very important to give him this peace, this stability, that he knows this program is in good shape and in good hands and going well."
Meyer's oldest daughter, Nicki, said she and the rest of her family think Meyer's decision to walk away for now is the right one at this point.
"I'm happy," she said. "I wanted what's best for him, and right now I think that is what's best for him, stepping back. I just want my dad to be healthy, I want for his heart to be okay, I want his anxiety level to go low. I want him to enjoy this again, like he used to. … For four years or so, it's been constant stress."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]