High School Football

Brantley's toughness fuels Conway football team

Few who know Chris Brantley are shocked that he continued to play this season after separating his shoulder.

With a somewhat bulky brace keeping his arm as connected as possible to his torso, the Conway running back never flinched on the choice of playing out his senior season or having surgery immediately. He'd occasionally have to take a series or two off after injuring himself in the third game of the year, but for the most part, Brantley never shied away from the contact.

What those who don't know him don't quite understand, though, is that to him, the shoulder issues were but a pesky annoyance.

Try playing football with one eye.

Brantley has been doing that since he became a steady part of the Conway varsity team prior to last year.

"He loves to play and wanted to play, and he's just a tough, darn kid," coach Chuck Jordan said. "He refuses to take no for an answer and keeps working."

In seventh grade, Brantley started experiencing problems in his right eye. The retina - the layer of nerves that senses light and effectively tells people what they see - had detached partially. Doctors had no explanation.

With some very small stitches, they put his eye back together. It wouldn't stay that way.

Toward the end of Brantley's sophomore year in high school, he was playing a game of sandlot football with some friends and took a knee to the right side of his head, including his eye.

"There was no hope for it," Brantley said. "It completely tore off."

What was left was a near-useless vessel. His iris faded from brown to red and eventually to the yellowish-white that currently remains.

Many teammates don't know how Brantley's eye injury occurred, and most don't care to ask.

"Over the years, I saw it got red, and then that was it," teammate and quarterback Robert Nelson said.

All those Conway players see is a running back who has the ability to go through or around defenders, and at times this season, has been the closest thing to a stabilizing force this offense had.

Brantley is closing in on the 700-yard rushing mark for the year. He's also got five touchdown runs, including two in the season opener against North Myrtle Beach (before his shoulder injury) and a solid 39-yard scoring run against Sumter two weeks ago. Most recognize that had it not been for the shoulder, or the fact that the Conway offense spent several weeks in flux because of the early season injury to original starting quarterback Mykal Moody, that Brantley's totals would be higher.

"He'd be putting up big numbers, especially if he had both eyes," Nelson said. "I think it does affect him sometimes - just that little cut when he could get an extra five yards or a touchdown."

That may be the biggest problem Brantley has on the football field. With no peripheral vision to his right, he tends to favor the left side of the offensive line.

It doesn't mean he won't go to his right. But when he does, he doesn't have the luxury of a quick glance. Almost like an owl, Brantley must adjust his entire head in order to make sure he's able to get where he needs to be.

Often he never sees defenders coming at him, and more than likely his shoulder separation came on a hit that he didn't know was about to happen.

"Vision is such an important thing for a running back," Jordan said. "There were times where we would have liked for him to make a different cut than he did. But you realize he's seeing what he sees. He's still our best back."

Brantley will start what could be his final game for Conway tonight against Goose Creek. The Tigers are the No. 16 seed in the Class AAAA, Division II playoffs, and they'll face the top-ranked Gators. No team in Conway's position has won in at least a decade.

Still, as improbable as a victory appears, it would not only give Brantley and his team another game, it would allow him to continue to do what he's done all along.

"We've just got to go play our hearts out," Brantley said. "This could be our last game, so we've got nothing to lose. You've got to go give it your all."