By T. Scott Boatright
Johnathan Brantley is no stranger to north Louisiana football, both as a player and later as a coach.
Brantley got his start as a standout football player at Grambling Laboratory High School, now known as Lincoln Preparatory School, and then as a defensive back for Grambling State University.
He later served as defensive backs coach for GSU from 2005-07 under Melvin Spears and Rod Broadway, as well as serving head coach for the football programs at Madison Parish and Ringgold high schools in north Louisiana and Capitol High School in Baton Rouge.
But now Brantley is a Shreveport Gentlemen – as in co-Defensive Coordinator, Special Teams coordinator and defensive backs coach for the newly revived Centenary College Gents football program.
“I reached out to their coach, Byron Dawson, in January or February, and the more we talked the more we realized we could work well together,” Brantley said. “I’m excited to get another chance to coach on the college level, and doing it for a new program that’s being built from the ground up makes it even more exciting.
“This first season will be an exhibition season before we start as a full Division III team in 2024. The team is made up of all freshmen, but that will only hopefully help as far as them being open to learning a new system, because they’ve never played for any system on this level. I’m co-Defensive Coordinator along with Coach Dawson, who got his start as a defensive coach and coordinator before becoming head coach at Evangel High School. We seem to work well together and think alike as far as football goes, so I’m excited.”
One of the freshmen defensive backs Brantley will be coaching is Brandon Heard from Lincoln Preparatory School.
“I was head coach at Capitol High School last year, but with my sons playing for Ruston, I still kept up with football up here and knew all about him,” Brantley said. “So I’m excited to be able to coach him along with all the other guys. We have some character kids on this team.”
Brantley said that although this will be Centenary’s first gridiron program in more than 80 years, he realizes the Shreveport-based college was once known for its nationally prominent football program.
Between 1920 and 1941, Centenary College’s football program had undefeated seasons, conference championships, beat some of the biggest programs in college football history, including LSU, set NCAA records, took down a nationally ranked team in Shreveport, and produced All-American players.
Centenary even suited up a future Pro Football Hall of Fame player in Cal Hubbard, who played for the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers (then Pirates). He’s a member of a ton of “All Time” teams named by the NFL, and was once voted the “Greatest Tackle of All Time” by NFL players.
But all of that ended in the 1941s when the school cut off football, when the Centenary football program was discontinued for the duration of World War II due to budget deficits, and declining fan interest. Two attempts to reinstate the football program – one in 1947 and another in the 1960s – failed to return the Gents to the field.
As Centenary’s Special Teams Coordinator, Brantley knows he has some hard history to even and try to match.
Centenary still owns 13 NCAA records, with most being set during a 1939 game against Texas Tech in Shreveport. Playing in a torrential downpour, those two teams resorted to punting the ball to one another on nearly every play, hoping for a sloppy catch, or fumble, that would allow the other team to score on special teams.
Brantley said he’ll be commuting from Ruston to Centenary, which will allow him to watch son Josh Brantley, the starting quarterback for Ruston this season, every Friday night.
“That’s part of what makes all of this even better,” Brantley said. “Being a new program in its first year, there won’t be overnight trips. All the games are fairly close by. That’s something Coach Dawson pointed out to me when we were talking about me coming here. I had a few other opportunities I thought about, but at this point right now, I wanted to be back in north Louisiana and that makes Centenary the perfect place for me.
“It’s an exciting thing to be part of something like this – making history by being part of bringing back history. I’m just thankful to Coach Dawson and Centenary College for making this happen and giving me this opportunity. I’ve been working with the team for about three weeks now and it’s been a great experience. I’m just looking forward to the season kicking off and already looking toward the future and getting this program going for real next year.”