“Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it’s so incredible, it’s unbelievable.”  -Tom Landry

When I read that Tom Landry quote it almost brings me to tears. Some of the hardest times and worst times of my life have been on a football field, and some of the best times and greatest accomplishments of my life have been on a football field. There have been a lot of ups and downs and in a lot of ways the game has defined and molded my life.


I started playing football in 1975 at the age of five in the Madison County flag football league. We practiced in the grass field right behind the home bleachers of South Side High School’s football stadium and we played our games on the practice fields between the high school and the junior high school. As we got older, we played our games on the high school fields. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about that 1975 team, the coach, or the experience. I do know that the name of our team was the First National Bank Vols and we wore orange and white jerseys and blue jeans and we had plastic helmets! Ironic because I despise the color orange and I really don’t care for the Tennessee Vols. Luckily, the experience didn’t ruin me!


During my elementary school years I played for the First National Bank Vols, the Teague Oil Vikings, the Civitan Packers, and the Whilhite Steelers. I played every year from the fall of 1975 when I was in Kindergarten until the fall of 1982 when I was in the seventh grade at South Side Junior High School. Most of those years we had really good teams and we won a few league championships. I was blessed with a good arm, a good football IQ, and some leadership skills so I always played quarterback. I loved the position! I loved practicing and honing my skills and I had big dreams. I was very blessed to have had a few coaches back then that really impacted me and my love for the game. Don Jordan, Bill Wilhite, and my father, Wayne Brantley. 


Don Jordan was one of the best youth league football and baseball coaches in Jackson, Tennessee during that time. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s he impacted a ton of young men. Don worked for the Coca-Cola bottling company during the day and coached in the afternoons. I played quarterback for him and we won back to back league championships. In practice if we ran a really good play he would yell, “that will go like a dose of salts” or “Katy bar the door”! I never knew what that meant, but I thought it was pretty cool! One thing I remember that he taught me was to be patient, every play is not going to score. Take it one play at a time and let the game come to you. He was the epitome of patience and you could tell he loved all of the young boys he coached. 


Bill Wilhite probably did more in regards to sponsoring teams and helping young men in youth sports than anyone in Jackson, Tennessee in the early 1980’s. I played football, basketball, and baseball for teams sponsored by Mr. Wilhite and his truck stop. I can only imagine how much money and time he invested in teams, meals, uniforms, trips to Memphis State games, and the many other things that he did for his players. He was truly one of a kind and the perfect example of servant-leadership and charity. Mr. Wilhite’s son, Billy, and I were good friends during that time. We grew up together and we always played on the same teams. Billy was a great young man and a great friend.


My father, Wayne Brantley, is the toughest man that I know. He was the one of the toughest and hardest coaches I ever played for in my life at any level. He was harder on me than he was on the other players. Partly because he expected more out of me and partly because he wanted to make me tough and teach me about hard work and discipline. I didn’t always like the fact that I had a different expectation level. Sometimes I thought it was unfair. But, as with anything in life, when you are in the middle of the storm it is unpleasant. No discipline seems pleasant at the time. God puts us through hard and difficult times to mold us. On the other side of the storm you are stronger and better for having gone through it. I have a few strengths and a lot of weaknesses, but one thing I know for sure is that I am tough and I will not be out worked. I can take on all comers and I am built to last. My father, Wayne Brantley, made me that way. What else could I have asked for? I am blessed to have a father that loved me enough to be hard on me. He instilled hard work, discipline, and toughness in me.  He was not my buddy, he was not my friend, he was my father. Today, there is nothing but love, respect, and appreciation  for the toughest man that I know and I am thankful.


The Civitan Packers 1979

Coaches Don Jordan (left) and Wayne Brantley (right)


I loved throwing the football. My favorite thing was to take a five step drop from under center, hitch in and throw a 10 yard out route. I also loved throwing a deep post off of play-action and hitting a crossing route off of a bootleg. There is nothing like it! Sadly, we didn’t do much of that in youth football. We very rarely threw the ball. Most of the practices consisted of the following: Stretching, grass drills, bull in the ring, graveyard, a little scrimmaging, and then sprints and laps. We would do a little offense and defense but not much. I have to be honest, those were not the fun parts of football for me. I was a skill position guy! I wanted to punt, pass, and kick. I wanted to run offensive plays. But, the things that we did separated those that wanted to play from those that didn’t. Those drills and activities are what made you a player. Those are the things that taught you how to play the game.


Stretching. It was boring at times. I mostly remember playing with clovers as I laid on the grass stretching. When the sky was blue and the temperature and the breeze was right, it was heaven on earth! I’ll never forget the neck bridge! How did we not break our necks? If you played in the seventies or eighties you know what I mean. 


Grass Drills. I still have nightmares about being on all fours “digging grass”! The burning in your legs stays with you for life. I’ll never forget “bear crawling” through the maze of old truck tires and Tyrus Williamson saying, “man somebody needs to come up here tonight and steal them wheels, I can’t be bear crawling like this the whole season”! And, what about the monkey rolls! Disaster waiting to happen. The mid-air collisions were a sight to behold! Especially if you were in a group with Craig Hobson or Pat Carmody, they were road graders and they destroyed everything in the paths!

Bull in the Ring. It’s illegal to do it at football practice today and that is a shame. Every American male should have to do at least 25 sessions of “bull in the ring” before his 16th birthday. It was the greatest drill ever designed to build courage, toughness, awareness, and fight! Some of the hardest hits and best licks ever passed happened in this awesome drill on the practice fields between Harts Bridge Road and Dixie Lane. There was nothing like watching one of your friends getting drilled in the back by a freight train named Alexander Smith that he never saw coming! We would talk about that at school for days! I don’t want to go off on a tangent but when they eliminated this drill from practices, took “prison war ball”out of PE, and banned “smear the queer” from recess all was lost. At that point we pretty much declared to the world, “come take us over”.


Grave-Yard. If ever a drill was appropriately named it was this one! Two players would lie on their backs five yards apart. The coach would blow the whistle and both players would jump to their feet and run and hit each other. It was beautiful to watch! Especially when one player was slower getting up. There was nothing better than “dogging” your friend because he got hit by Rickey Catlett running full speed while he was still trying to get up! I really am amazed that none of us ended up mangled for life.


Wayne Brantley, Head Football Coach

Landmark Christian School (Atlanta, GA)

I think that the most important things that I gained from youth football were life lessons. Be a great teammate, never turn your back on your friends, fight for those that cannot fight for themselves, do the little things right, play as hard as you can, be tough, and never quit. Also, the team that hits the hardest and blocks and tackles the best always wins! I teach those things today after 30 years of coaching!

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