"How are you doing?" said the slow deep bellowing voice.
I didn't know who it was and replied, "Fine, who is this?
"It's Brandon," he answered quickly, bringing a big smile to my face. "I just called to wish you a Happy New Year." What a thoughtful kid, I thought to myself. As I have learned, that's just Brandon Antwine being himself.
It is the nature of my business to call upwards of fifteen or twenty prospects a night. Sometimes they just don't answer and I can't say that I blame them. They are deluged with calls from one coach after another and from writers and recruiting analysts. By the time January rolls around, the phone is no longer their friend.
Some kids get to a point where they won't return calls. I'm not naming names here and it doesn't happen a lot, but I understand why. When Brandon Antwine calls me on New Years Day just to wish me Happy New Year, you probably understand why I like this big guy so much. In these days and times when kids already have that "all about me" attitude, a kid who is this thoughtful is refreshing.
There really is a difference in the young men Florida Coach Urban Meyer and his staff are assembling for the 2006 signing class. Certainly the all-star cast of players they are putting together can take the field against anyone, but it's the way these young men act off the field that has made my experience this year so great. These aren't selfish, self-centered kids whose only thought is getting to the NFL. These are kids with real character.
I could go on and on with examples from the class, but we will be doing in-depth feature stories on all the recruits and you will see for yourselves. Still, Antwine is special. When he mentioned again in our last interview that he didn't have a "Papa," I thought to myself, "This is a kid I would adopt."
On the football field, Antwine is the stopper in the middle of the defensive line and the quarterback's nightmare as a pass rusher. Off the field, he is polite, caring, thoughtful and personable. I'm convinced that once coaches understood the total package that extends beyond football, Brandon Antwine of Garland, Texas became an even hotter commodity.
There were times when Antwine was heading in directions that could have taken him far from football. There was even a time when he thought about giving up the game but his best friend, who is also the most significant figure in his life, set him straight.
"My mom … she told me to never give up," Antwine said in a telephone interview.
Every time he wanted to give up and quit football, his mother knew just the right words to say. Her constant encouragement taught him to fight through difficult situations.
"I wanted to quit many times in my ninth grade year after football season," he said. "The season took a terrible toll on me and I felt like quitting because I didn't want to go through the pain of football. My first year was tough getting used to the off-season. We had about 40 players quit that year because of the off-season. She told me to never give up and everything I want I would have to work for."
He didn't quit football and he didn't stop working hard. All the effort paid off with scholarship offers from many of the nation's top college football programs. When it came time to decide where he would spend the next four years, he chose the University of Florida. One of the reasons he chose Florida for college was Greg Mattison, Florida's defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator. Antwine says Mattison reminds him of his mentor, Coach Anthony Cheeks, his position coach at Garland.
"[Mattison] reminds me so much of my position coach here now," Antwine said. "[Coach Cheeks] has done so much for me. He got me into school and took care of me. I don't have a Papa now so he took care of me. I feel the same way about Coach Mattison. If I go that far away my mom won't have to worry about anything because I know he will really take care of me."
He expects Mattison to push him at Florida. He likes a coach that will do whatever it takes to make him a better player.
"Coach Cheeks pushed me the most," Antwine said. "He got involved with me in my ninth grade year. When people said I couldn't do it, he said I could. And he continued to push. That is basically why I am where I am now. When I was young I kind of slacked a little bit and behind the scenes he made me do extra."
Antwine has always felt a magnetic attraction to high character people who are willing to mentor him. He wants to succeed and he wants to learn from people who will invest their time and effort in helping him reach his goals.
Life's lessons have taught Antwine that it's not all about football. He sees a degree from the University of Florida as a ticket to a better life. He has flourished under the guidance of great teachers. He used to struggle in English, but the right prodding got him to do what he needed.
"My favorite subject is English," he said. "I love to write and I think I am a good writer. Back in the day I used to love math … I'm still real good in math but I didn't used to read. My mom got on me and told me it would help me in the future. When I got into those English classes in school and started reading all those novels I got interested and I love to read the most."
When his mother got him interested in reading that opened the door for a teacher to step in and mentor him.
"My English teacher now is Ms. Bullard," he said. "From the beginning she has been hard on me for all the good reasons. She does her job and is hard on students, but she doesn't do it to punish them. She wants to further my career. English can take you a long way, grammar and all of that."
"You have to know how to talk right to people. When I used to do interviews I used to say 'you know what I'm saying' and stuff like that. That isn't really appropriate. She has taken me a long way and I love her for that. She is a real good teacher."
His easy going manner and determination to succeed make Brandon Antwine a most likeable young man. He's made a lasting impression on the head coach at his high school.
"He is a neat kid," said Garland Coach Jeff Jordan. "It is just he and his mom and they are real tight. I was really surprised that he is going as far away as he is. She has done a great job of raising him. She is a great lady. He is here every day, works hard every day … there really isn't anything you can say bad about Brandon.
During his high school season, Antwine made certain that the recruiting process never interfered with the success of his high school team. His team goals always were greater than his own personal desires.
"He didn't let all the recruiting and the hype get to his head," Coach Jordan said. "His number one concern throughout the year was to worry about the goals and make sure he was the leader on the team that he needed to be. He did as good a job of that as anyone we have ever had. He figured all the other stuff would take care of itself."
Antwine began playing organized football in the ninth grade. When he first started to play, he envisioned himself as a running back that would score plenty of touchdowns and make the headlines. When he started playing organized football it didn't take long to change positions.
"All of my younger cousins were playing football," he said. "I didn't know football too much. When I was young I was real fast and I wanted to play running back. I was too big, so I made the decision to move to the line. I liked it a lot, getting a chance to hit somebody and not get in trouble."
The physical contact of football is so appealing that there is no doubt what other sport he would play if only he could.
"If I could skate I would play hockey, so I could hit someone," he said.
During the recruiting process, Antwine enjoyed the interaction with coaches and administrators on college campuses. His experience taught him how important it is to have your academic house in order early on so you can enjoy the recruiting process and think clearly when schools are putting their best foot forward.
"My advice would be to lay it out on the line and handle your business," he said. "This stuff really does pass you by really fast. Some guys at my school wait till their senior year to take the test. They get left behind because they can't go back and take it at the last minute and get in. My sophomore year I had a 3.0 and got a 19 on my ACT, so I didn't have to worry about it anymore. If you take care of the business, it helps with the whole recruiting process.
"I would say that I liked almost everything about the process. It was just that coaches would call at all times of the night. It wasn't as if any coaches disrespected me or anything, or negative recruit against other schools. All of them were really good coaches, but I just had to be a Gator."
When Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Mattison came recruiting, it was a case of the right coaches with the right opportunity meeting up with a young man ready to grab what they had to offer. While Mattison was like a father-figure, Meyer was a coach who immediately had his undivided attention.
"Coach Meyer is scary to me every time I talk to him or hear him talk … it doesn't even have to be to me," he said. "[The coaches] came here Wednesday and showed me a highlight tape and it had some things he said to players before games. He says things to you and others and when I hear him talk, it just makes you go 'Oh my God'. You know everything he says means something. It touches me in my heart. He isn't just saying it to get you pumped up to play a game. It's like he is a psychologist or something."
In fact, Meyer does have a psychology degree and he is a master motivator who believes there is a direct correlation in success and living your life the right way. That speaks volumes to Antwine.
"It is true," he said. "Living your life the right way is important. You can't progress in life and get far in life if you aren't doing the right things. If people like what you are doing, it helps you in the long run."
Doing the right thing in the recruiting process, means making a decision and sticking with it. The Gators have had two or three prospects commit this year only to change their minds late in the process. For Antwine, there was going to be none of that and he made sure other schools knew fairly quickly that he meant business.
"They really laid off a lot," he said. "I haven't had any calls in a long time, since I told everyone I was committed. Tennessee kind of got the hint."
His official visit to Gainesville gave him a sense of peace about his decision.
"When I went down there on my visit and I met the players, coaches, and surroundings I felt at home," he said. "That was real important to me and that sealed the deal. I feel like I would fit in really well if I feel like I am at home. The players reminded me of some of the players I played with already. The coaches are truly wonderful. I can see it and hear it in their voices around the kids … it's amazing."
When Meyer finished his face to face time with Antwine on the official visit, he posed one simple question.
"He asked if I was ready to play for the number one team in the nation?" Antwine said.
There is no question about it. Brandon Antwine is ready not just to play for the number one team in the nation, but to do whatever he can to take the Florida Gators to that lofty goal.