There is truth. And there is Justus.
And the truth is Bloom Township’s Justus Brantley has been piling up yardage and lighting up scoreboards during the Blazing Trojans’ fast start on the football field this fall.
Brantley is recognized for his hard work today as Patch’s Athlete of the Month for September in the Southland.
He has come a long way in a short time.
Brantley, 5 feet 11 and 178 pounds, spent the off-season lifting weights with his father and personal trainer, Thomas Brantley, at L.A. Fitness. Even so, Justus didn’t expect to become a starter by the third week of the regular season, let alone phenomena in The Heights.
Brantley burst onto the scene in a big way in Bloom’s 38-6 victory over Fenton on Sept. 14. He rushed for 233 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also returned a punt 85 yards for a TD and he finished with 343 all-purpose yards.
For an encore, he ran wild in Bloom’s 43-15 victory over Rich South on Sept. 22. His was a performance straight out of EA Sports video productions. Ever heard that clever little diddy, "It's in the game?"
Brantley rushed for what is believed to be a single-game school-record 387 yards and emerged a star against the Stars. He scored five touchdowns.
His father played high school football in Alabama. Thomas Brantley was a running back and a punt returner in his day. He has passed on more than the Brantley family genes to his son.
“He’s always looking at me and how I’m holding the ball going through the hole,” Brantley said. “He tells me to explode through the hole like a bullet coming out of a gun. He tells me to keep my shoulders down and my head up.”
The advice has paid huge dividends as the Blazing Trojans (5-2 overall, 2-1 in the Southland Athletic Conference) have surged toward becoming the first Bloom or Bloom Trail football team to reach the IHSA playoffs since 1989. Then, Bradley-Bourbonnais ousted Bloom Township 30-14 in a first-round matchup in Class 5A.
The Trojans can clinch a postseason berth this season with a victory over Rich East on Saturday in Park Forest.
Bloom Township coach Tony Palombi expected big things from Brantley—just not this fast. Brantley showed off some of his power during the wrestling season last winter. He compiled a 25-5 record as a sophomore in the 160-pound weight class and went to-toe-to with a number of more experienced foes in the ring.
“Yes, he was a nice surprise,” Palombi said. “We knew he had the talent. We’ve said it before, ‘We just didn’t think it was a 387-yard type talent. We figured he’d be good for 100 yards or so a game.’ But we knew the talent was there and, with the line we had coming back, we knew we’d be pretty good at that position.”
Brantley runs behind five seniors—right tackle Jalen Thomas, right guard Alan Hall, center Brandon Rockett, left guard Colis McCloud and left tackle Antwan Bluster. The five have come to appreciate how Brantley utilizes deceptive speed to go with his wrestling power.
“We encourage the kids to play other sports,” Palombi said. “A guy who taught me how to coach said, ‘Competition makes you a better athlete.’ Because you’re going against someone else, be it on the basketball team, the wrestling team, baseball or track. That competition—to be the best, to win that tournament, to win that meet—will make you a better athlete all-around. It gives you that drive to be successful.
“Sometimes, there is no drive in that weight room. You can become complacent in there. Wrestling is a nice sport for us because it teaches them to be aggressive, not to back down. If you back down, you’re going to get beat pretty badly.”
Palombi said Brantley has good vision and quickness—two traits that put him in an elite class.
“Those are his two key strengths,” Palombi said. “He gets to the hole quickly. And, then, he has really good vision to make that cut or make that move. Once he makes that cut, he’s hard to get down.
“I’m not big on timing guys in 40s. In the past, some of the college guys would ask, ‘Is that linear?’ And I finally just said, ‘You know something, we’re going to take care of ourselves. If you like him, you like him.’ I’d have to say his speed is around 4.5 (for 40 yards).”
Brantley dislocated a finger in Bloom Township’s 41-6 loss to Crete-Monee. He bounced back with a 66-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Blazing Trojans’ 28-6 victory over Kankakee.
Tracing his Footsteps
In September, Bloom Township offensive coordinator Tom Tong was the first one to convince Palombi that Brantley “was getting lathered up” and needed more carries, that the Bloom coaching staff needed to “feed the beast.”
Tong also coaches Brantley during the wrestling season and has come to respect how Brantley goes about his business—on and off the field.
“Wrestling is sport where an awful lot is done with the hips and the upper-body,” Tong said. “And football—you block, you tackle, you run—everything is from the hips down.
“So, they do hand-in-hand. Justus is a very physical young man. He’s got a real good jump cut. He’s very, very lateral. Again, I think it’s because of his hips. I think it’s because of all the twisting, the turning and the upper-body throws that we do in wrestling. I think they complement that.”
Tong said Brantley’s ascension to the top of the Bloom heap is a direct result of his dedication, his training with his father, his coaches and his teammates.
“He worked hard in practice,” Tong said. “A lot of young people are content to sit back and wait a year, say, ‘My turn will come in the future.’ He didn’t do that. He attacked each day in practice. That’s when you’ve got to open up a coach’s eyes—in practice.
“That’s what he did. It’s a credit to him that he did so. And now he’s a starter.”
Brantley has climbed heights in The Heights.
Call it truth, Justus and the American way.