Hindsight is a funny thing. Rumors and whispers? Not so much.
Marcus Brantley saw and heard them all — the recollection of which made him chuckle in the 102-degree heat of Wedenesday’s practice at Red Mountain, a slivered smile in an otherwise-unfunny story.
Yes, Red Mountain. It’s his new and final high school after months of paperwork, meetings and doubts about whether the family struggles behind his transfer from Gilbert last spring were worth this hassle.
There’s a big reunion of sorts on Friday night when the Mountain Lions travel to Gilbert, and Brantley will line up at running back and his full-time spot at defensive back. His new coach, Ron Wisniewski, calls Brantley one of the “two or three best high school defensive players I’ve ever coached. He is stupid-good defensively.”
But this isn’t about Brantley’s ability, or whether Pac-12, Mountain West or WAC schools will come calling once they see his senior season’s game film. Odds are, they will.
It’s not even about the reunion, where the fun-loving jabs began early this week between him and Gilbert defensive coordinator Stacy Garner. Or his numerous friends still at Gilbert. Or his cousin, Tysan Hatten, a wide receiver/defensive back with whom Brantley and his mom lived intermittently when she lost her job a second time. Or Tyler Donaldson, a Gilbert linebacker and one of Brantley’s best friends growing up who stored Brantley’s clothes because he didn’t always know where he was sleeping on a given night.
It’s about the need for stability, which he has found 1 1/2 miles away from school at the home of longtime family friends who are now his legal guardians.
“I never pictured myself at Red Mountain or anywhere else,” Brantley said. “It’s not like I wanted to leave. I thought I’d be a Gilbert Tiger all the way.”
That changed quickly about four years ago and permanently last winter.
Brantley met his biological father at age 10 and has met him twice (he lives in Washington). He was raised by his mother, Pamela, and her now-ex-husband, James, near Gilbert High School.
They divorced when Marcus was between 8th and 9th grade, but were still on good terms, and Pamela moved down the street. She then lost her job, and, without enough money for a place of her own, moved in with Hatten’s family. It was an overcrowded house, so Marcus and his older brother, Jesse, lived with James for most of the past two years and saw their mother regularly.
Pamela landed another job, then lost it last year, again unable to afford a place to live or insurance.
(Pamela found another job at Chandler Fashion Center, and is still living with Hattan’s family while she saves money).
Meanwhile, Marcus and James — a disciplinarian who traveled often and for long stretches for work — clashed and Marcus left in January.
“He was real hard on me,” Marcus said. “...It was a bad day.”
They’ve since made up, but with his mother already renting a bedroom from Hattan’s family, there wasn’t room for Marcus, and, for most of the winter of 2010, he bounced around from one friend’s house to another on a given night. Unsure where he’d be from night to night, he left a collection of his clothes with Donaldson to come back for when he needed them on a given day.
In between, he lived at Myra and Pete Proano’s house for two or three weeks at a time dating back to his junior year. They live near Red Mountain and work in Phoenix, but had to drop Marcus off at Gilbert every day. That wasn’t going to continue.
In February, push came to shove. Long discussions between Myra and Pete, Marcus and Pamela culminated with the decision that Marcus should live with Myra and Pete, and Pamela would turn over legal guardianship.
Marcus temporarily had insurance again in the interim, but permanent standing meant piles of paperwork and three months of meetings and waiting through the Maricopa County legal system.
It meant Marcus was going to the neighborhood school where the Proano’s older son, Xavier, plays special teams on varsity and defensive back on JV.
But the structure and stability also came accountability and consequences. Marcus lost car and cell phone privileges last week when one of his grades slipped below a B.
“I know it’s different for him,” Myra said. “There’s discipline here and he doesn’t get to do what he wants. It’s hard for him to share with two brothers, not always leave when you want. He likes his own space.
“We’re glad (Pamela) made the right decision. It’s his future and his life, you have to trust them to make the right decisions. It’s the same way I treat my kids. He’s held to the same standards and requirements.”
Wisniewski had never heard of Brantley until he was the new student who showed up to his first-hour math class in February. Wisneiwski immediately called Gilbert coach Dan Dunn — who knew the Brantley situation was bad, but not that bad — and both schools’ administrations met when they learned the full scope of Brantley’s situation.
“He is what you see,” Wisniewski said. “He was up front, and he’s always trying to please people. It’s been challenging for him and for his teammates. He’s had to earn his stripes which is what should happen when you come in as a senior from a cross-town school.”
Already a top defender, Brantley ran for 140 yards on eight carries last week against Mesa in his first action on offense, something he’d love to do more of even though, he said, “I love doing the hitting.”
He’d also love to play at Arizona State or Arizona, and his newfound stability has given him a chance to contemplate a future as a parole officer for troubled teens or doing motivational speaking.
“I’m a good people-person, social,” he said Wednesday as teammates chirped at him during drills. “Plus I get to lay down the law to them.”
He waffled during the summer about whether he wanted to return to Gilbert for his senior year, with homesickness and losing a portion of the friendships and camaraderie he had with his former classmates of three years.
But with friendships intact, his own bedroom and closet took precedent.
“They’ve gotten their jokes in here and there (this week), but they can’t stay mad at me,” he said of friends, former teammates and coaches. “We’ll talk trash and laugh about it later.
“There’s a lot of stress off my chest. I can focus on school and football, not where am I sleeping on this night or how am I going to get my clothes.”