Okay, Caleb Brantley. You’ve said it. Now prove it.
Wednesday, Florida’s 6-2, 300-pound fourth year junior defensive tackle stated, “I think I’m the best D-lineman in the country. I’m coming out to try and prove it.”
There is nothing wrong with what Brantley said although I’m sure non-Florida fans will call him a braggart – and that’s if they’re being nice. What I have discovered in more than 40 years of writing about sports is that most great athletes truly believe they are great and not because they’ve read the headlines or listened to someone else pump them up. They believe they’re great because they first made a decision to pursue greatness then had the fortitude to put in the hard work and effort necessary to be the best at what they do.
Maybe the best example of athletic greatness I’ve ever encountered was heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali. Long before he won the heavyweight title by knocking out Sonny Liston, Ali proclaimed himself as “The Greatest.” At first people were irritated beyond belief but grudgingly they came to acknowledge the champ really was the best there ever was. Sitting with the late great Jack Hairston one night at the Greenleaf resort outside Winter Haven, Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee went on a two-hour roll talking about “The Champ.” I asked Angelo what made Ali so great and his reply was (paraphrasing … it’s been 40 years!), “Because he truly believes he is the greatest and because he believes it, he won’t let anyone outwork him. It all starts in his head, though. If he didn’t believe it he would slack off and he never slacks off. Never.”
In 2015, Brantley was in on 29 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 2 QB hurries. Those are good but not great numbers, so why would he think he’s the best? Probably because he’s spent enough time in the film room with coaches who pointed out how close he was to making great plays, that with just a little more effort or attention to technique that instead of missing a big play by an inch, he’s there waiting to make the stop. Sometimes all it takes is seeing just how close greatness is for an athlete to decide he or she is capable.
With his Wednesday statement, Brantley opened himself up for a ton of criticism, but if he truly believes that he’s the best, then no one will have to motivate him to outwork everybody else and do all the little things it takes to go from good to dominant. If he’s not willing to outwork all his teammates in the weight room, on the field and in the film room then Caleb is all talk. If he sets himself apart as the guy who won’t be outworked, then he probably won’t be eating any words when the 2016 season concludes.
MARCH MADNESS CONFERENCE SCOREBOARD
(Does not include Seton Hall-Gonzaga results)
Missouri Valley: 2-0
Big East: 2-0
Big Ten: 2-1
Big 12: 2-2
Sun Belt: 1-0
American AC: 1-1
Atlantic Sun: 1-1
Mountain West: 0-1
Ohio Valley: 0-1
GAME OF THE DAY
Arkansas-Little Rock 85, Purdue 83 (2 OT): There is a reason Arkansas-Little Rock is 30-4. These guys are really good and they are afraid of no one, which makes them extremely dangerous moving forward. They’re very capable of knocking off #4 seed Iowa State Saturday and moving on to the Sweet 16.
PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Josh Hagins, Arkansas-Little Rock: Hagins had one of the best games I’ve seen all year by going off for 31 on Purdue and that included 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Against Florida Gulf Coast, Johnson went off for 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 8 blocked shots.
FIRST DAY THOUGHTS
* If Skal Labissiere becomes a rim protector, then Kentucky could make the Final Four.
* The Saturday point guard battle between Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell will be one of the best individual matchups of the entire tournament.
* Wichita State showed why this 11-seed play-in game is ridiculous. The Shockers aren’t as good as they’ve been the last two seasons, but they’re still really, really good and Gregg Marshall is one of the elite coaches in the college game.
* Duke got lucky when Baylor was a no-show against Yale. The Dukies would have struggled in the second round with a Baylor team that was focused. They’ll eliminate Yale and make the Sweet 16.
* If North Carolina plays like it did in the second half against Florida Gulf Coast, the Tar Heels are probably the best team in the country. When they play like they did in the first half, there are a lot of teams that can beat them.
* The best big man you’ve never heard about is Utah’s 7-0 sophomore Jakob Poeltl, who dominated Fresno State with 16 pints and 18 rebounds.
* I wouldn’t be surprised if Arkansas-Little Rock knocks off Iowa State.
SEC SPRING FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Will Bo Scarbrough feel the pressure of replacing a Heisman Trophy winner? Last year, Derrick Henry ran for 2,219 yards and 28 TDs en route to the Heisman Trophy while Scarbrough gained 104 yards and scored 1 TD as the backup. Since 2008, every #1 tailback at Alabama gained at least 674 yards in a backup role the year before.
Arkansas: QB Carson Proctor (6-4, 215, Vero Beach, FL) will walk on at Arkansas this fall … The current spring depth chart shows Austin Allen at the #1 with Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey and Ricky Town all listed at the #2.
Auburn: Heading into week two of Auburn’s spring practice, the OL looks like this: LT Robert Leff, LG Alex Kozan, C Austin Golson, RG Braden Smith, RT Darius James.
Georgia: Former Georgia DE/LB Leonard Floyd could be a first round pick in the NFL Draft. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his replacement at UGa could be even better. “You gotta watch Davin Bellamy (6-5, 241),” Floyd said. “He might be better than me. Don’t tell him that, though, but yeah, he’s going to be a great player. I’m expecting big things from him.”
Kentucky: During his watch, Kentucky has spent $120 million to upgrade Commonwealth Stadium and is spending another $45 million for a practice complex and football offices so Mark Stoops says he has to start winning. “Mitch (Barnhart, UK AD) and the rest of the administration have done everything they said they would do,” Stoops told Tony Barnhart of Gridironnow.com. “Now we have to do our part.” Kentucky has posted three straight losing seasons under Stoops.
LSU: As spring practice gets going, the OL looks like this: LT Maea Teuhema, LG Will Clapp, C Andy Dodd, RG Josh Boutte and RT Toby Weathersby ... TE Dillon Gordon has appealed to the NCAA for a sixth season, but hasn’t heard back if he will get another year.
Mississippi State: Former NT Chris Jones was arrested in Starkville for driving with a suspended license.
Missouri: It was a bit surprising when new HBC Barry Odom didn’t retain Craig Kuligowski as the DL coach considering his track record of producing All-Americans. Kuligowski is now at Miami, but Odom brought in a big name to replace him – Jackie Shipp, who spent six years in the NFL and was an All-America linebacker and DL coach at Oklahoma.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp admits he has very little confidence in his safeties and really doesn’t care if they know it. “The bottom line is they need to respond,” Muschamp said. The Gamecocks allowed 212.4 passing yards per game in 2015.
Tennessee: Rashaan Gaulden has moved from nickel to safety where he’s playing alongside Micah Abernathy with the first unit. Malik Foreman appears to be taking over as the #1 nickel.
Texas A&M: When best bud and former starting QB Kyle Allen elected to transfer out, many thought Christian Kirk would follow suit, but Kirk, who was SEC Freshman of the Year, says he’s an Aggie for the long haul. “I came here because I love Texas A&M,” Kirk told Gridironnow.com. “I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again: I came here because this is the best fit for me. If I could do it all over again, would I go somewhere else? No.”
UF SPORTS THIS WEEKEND
Baseball: The #1 Gators (18-1) open the SEC portion of the schedule hosting Missouri (13-6). The pitching rotation for the weekend will be Logan Shore (4-0, 2.00 ERA) tonight, A.J. Puk (0-1, 2.65 ERA) Saturday and Alex Faedo (4-0, 1.42 ERA) on Sunday. Peter Alonso leads Florida in hitting at .419 with 3 homers and 19 RBI. As a team the Gators are hitting .309 and the team ERA is 2.39.
Softball: The #1-ranked Gators (27-1) are home this weekend for a 3-game SEC set with #16 Tennessee (21-5). The Gators have outscored opponents 196-26. Florida is hitting .361 as a team and the team ERA is 0.89. Kayli Kvistad lead the Gators with a .472 batting average, 4 homers and 29 RBI. Freshman Kelly Barnhill (9-0) has 90 strikeouts in 55 innings. She’s coming off an 18-strikeout performance against Winthrop.
Lacrosse: This is the biggest match of the weekend nationwide as #1 Maryland (5-0) travels to Gainesville to face #2 Florida (8-0) in a 12 noon match Saturday at Donald Dizney Stadium.
Women’s Tennis: The 13th-ranked Gators are on the road this weekend, at #37 Ole Miss today and #22 Mississippi State on Sunday.
Men’s Tennis: The 24th-ranked Gators are home this weekend, facing off with #13 Arkansas today and #22 Ole Miss on Sunday.
FALLING DRAFT STOCK
Per Yahoo Sports, these SEC players have seen their NFL Draft stock drop since the combine in Indianapolis: De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State), Robert Nkemdiche (DT, Ole Miss), Chris Jones (DT, Mississippi State), A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama) and Demarcus Robinson (WR, Florida).
Robinson turned in very average 40 numbers at the combine but his interviews are what started his draft stock sliding in the wrong direction. Eric Edholm of Yahoo writes that after one interview with Robinson one NFL scout texted, “He was horrible, the worst we had this year.”
One of the interesting graphics on the first full day of action of the NCAA Tournament showed how Duke has once again MADE more free throws than the Blue Devils’ opponents have even ATTEMPTED. Why is this? Is it because Duke is that good? Or is it because of this reverence for Coach K that the Blue Devils get nearly every 50-50 call? How is it that when Duke plays defense it takes something that requires a tourniquet to get a foul call? And why is it that a feathery touch against any Blue Devil results in Duke going to the foul line? Example Duke shot 43 free throws against UNC-Wilmington. UNC-Wilmington shot 19.
Just two days after Frank Martin suspended five players before South Carolina faced High Point in the NIT, two of the suspended players – Eric Cobb and Jamall Gregory – were arrested for damaging property with a BB gun.
Is Vanderbilt thinking about a divorce with basketball coach Kevin Stallings after 18 years? Stallings didn’t sound like he’s certain if he’ll return next year after the Commodores lost their NCAA play-in game with Wichita State. “I don’t control whether I’m back next year,” Stallings answered a question by The Tennesseean’s Adam Sparks.
Capital One is scoring big with the commercial featuring Charles Barkley, Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson singing the song “Escape” which most of you who lived in the 1970s know as “If You Like Pina Coladas.” I’ve seen the commercial about four times and I can’t stop laughing.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Who gets the benefit of more whistles: Duke’s Grayson Allen or Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
“Waiting for the Sun” was the only album by The Doors to make it to #1 on the Billboard Album Charts. The album featured a #1 single “Touch Me” but I’ve always been partial to “Love Street” (second track) as the best song on the album. For those of you who don’t know, Jim Morrison was born in Melbourne, attended St. Pete JC and then went to FSU before he was arrested for pulling a prank following a football game in 1963.