"I was home, where I ought to be, and I knew it right then," said Spikes, the 6-4, 240-pound four-star (by Scout.com) linebacker from Shelby (NC) Crest who committed to the Florida Gators in the first quarter of Saturday's US Army All-American Bowl. "I knew this was the place where I'm going to place college football."
Actually, the Florida-Florida State game was an affirmation of something he had felt a few months earlier when he came to Gainesville to visit the University of Florida unofficially. He loved everything about the campus, the facilities, the people he met and the Florida coaching staff.
He felt an immediate connection in Gainesville. He felt good about the school, good about the players on the team that he met, and he appreciated the way the coaching staff focused in on academic and personal goals.
"Actually I knew when I came to Florida the first time back during the summer that this was the right place," said Spikes. "The players made me feel like I was at home … the kind of guys you want to play with and hang around all the time. The coaching staff spent more time talking about me and my future outside of football. We hardly talked at all about football."
Still, somewhere in the back of his mind, there was a tiny shred of doubt that had to be conquered. Only a return trip to Gainesville could satisfy the doubts so he scheduled his official visit to Florida on the weekend of the FSU game in The Swamp. It was Senior Day which only added to the already hyper-charged atmosphere, the kind you only find on a game day in the south when two arch-rivals hook up.
Minutes before kickoff, the seniors were introduced one by one. When Vernell Brown hobbled out of the tunnel and into the waiting bear hug of Coach Urban Meyer as an appreciative crowd roared its approval, it was a very special moment topped only by the ear-splitting thunder when the players hit the field. The game was almost anticlimactic. He knew right then where he should spend the next four years.
"That sealed it right there," he said. "It was nothing like I'd ever been a part of … the crowd … the game … the atmosphere … and then Florida just dominated. That weekend, everything said Florida."
Even though he knew in his heart that he wanted to be a Gator, he felt an obligation to be fair to Virginia Tech and Alabama, the two schools that along with Florida had recruited him the hardest. He listened to what they had to say and gave both schools very serious consideration but each time he started making comparisons his mind hit a roadblock.
"Sure I thought about the other schools," he said. "They're great schools and great football programs. I would have fit in great at either one of them but I had to go with the place that I feel is best for me and that's Florida. Every time that I thought about the other places, I kept coming back to Florida and that right there told me that Florida's the right place."
Chosen for the US Army All-American Bowl, he decided that he would make his announcement on the big stage but that meant biting his tongue and keeping a secret as Florida's recruiting class filled up with one all-star after another. When Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin said yes, holding it in was almost unbearable. Only a couple of people knew that his heart was set on Florida, one of them his buddy in Durham, Carl Johnson.
"I knew a while back that he was going to be a Gator," said Johnson, the five-star offensive lineman from Durham, Southern who committed to Florida back in the summer. "It was tough for him to wait so long to announce that he was going to be a Gator but he's feeling good now that he's told the world."
During the wait for the Army game, he gave himself plenty of room for a change of heart. He wanted to be certain so he took opportunities to reconsider his decision. Each time he reconsidered, however, it still kept coming back to Florida.
"In the end for the greatest decision of my life I had to trust my heart," he said. "It's the right place for me and it's a great class to be a part of with all these great players and great athletes that are coming to Florida to win championships with me."
He was recruited to Florida by Coach Doc Holliday, who first built the relationship on a one to one basis when he was the assistant head coach at North Carolina State. When Holliday moved to Florida to be a part of Urban Meyer's staff last January, Spikes became very interested in the Gators.
The personal relationship with Holliday blossomed further and that opened him up to building a strong relationship with Meyer and the other Florida coaches.
"With Doc, it's like you're dealing with a friend," Spikes said. "You can talk to Doc anytime about anything and get straight answers. That's one of the biggest reasons he's got the reputation he's got for being such a great recruiter. He gets the good players because he's straight with everybody.
"I've gotten close to all the other Florida coaches now and I'm really comfortable with them. So's my mom. She really likes Doc. She's really happy that I'm going to be a Gator. She thinks this is the best place for me."
And it is indeed one proud mama, happy that her son got to play in the most prestigious all-star game in the country and pleased that he's going to get the chance to get a college education while doing something that he loves.
"I am very proud of Brandon," said Brandon's mom, Sherry Allen, who made the trip to San Antonio from Shelby, North Carolina. "I love him to death. I'm so proud that he's made up his mind about where he's going and I'm behind him 100 percent.
"What I've seen about the Florida coaches, they look like they're going to be good to him and take care of him. He's going to be a long way from home so somebody's got to take care of him when I can't and I'm depending on them to take care of him, especially Doc."
In the Army All-American Bowl game, Ohio State-bound Chris Wells bulled his way to three touchdowns to lead the East team to its 27-16 victory. The powerhouse running back was like a man among boys as he shred one tackler after another, moving the pile and moving the chains.
Over on the East sideline, Brandon Spikes had to be smiling. Not only had he made his choice to be a Gator but he had the memory of the hit of the week when he leveled Wells during an East practice with a pad-echoing tackle that sent Wells to the ground with a resounding thud. Those are the kind of hits Gator fans should get accustomed to from Spikes.
"That's what I do," he said. "I hit people and they go down."