NEWBERRY - Brandon Gantt doesn't worry about making one bad throw any more. Newberry College's quarterback doesn't sweat a couple of three-and-out drives either. And the senior doesn't obsess over what the coaches think about his decision-making.
"The fact is, I don't have to look over my shoulder," he said.
Installed as the No. 1 quarterback before the season by new coach Todd Knight, Gantt has discovered a newfound confidence that wasn't always there when he platooned the previous two seasons. Combined with his maturation as a senior leader - he was voted one of the captains by his teammates - Gantt has reached a comfort level with offensive coordinator Todd Varn that he hasn't known his standout playing days at Heathwood Hall.
"I know this offense. I've been immersed in it for three years," Gantt said. "Coach Varn has confidence in me calling the plays. I'm close to my teammates. I feel so comfortable with the offense so now it's just a matter of going out there and playing."
Halfway through the season, Gantt is proving how liberated he is in the wide-open offense that plays to his all-around skills. In five games, he has completed 106-of-176 passes (60 percent) for 1,231 yards and eight touchdowns. He also has rushed for 145 yards on 41 carries with three more scores.
"There was no question coming out of spring ball. We said, 'That's our guy,' " Knight said. "We're going to give it to him and let him get it done."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Gantt, a Lexington native, definitely is getting it done. Newberry has a 3-2 record, 1-1 in the South Atlantic Conference. The non-conference loss came to Division I Austin Peay, while the conference loss came on the road in a torrential downpour to preseason SAC favorite Carson-Newman.
But Gantt isn't one to make excuses. In fact, he believes the loss made the team more determined as it bounced back to pound nationally-ranked Catawba 40-21 on the road. He doesn't see any reason why Newberry can't win the rest of its conference games and earn a bid to the Division II playoffs.
"We're really focusing on winning but even more so on having a complete game. If we play four quarters like we can, there's no telling what we can do," said Gantt, whose hot start has boosted him into the Newberry's career Top 10 for completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns.
The four quarters against Catawba included 211 yards and two touchdowns passing by Gantt, as well as 237 yards and two touchdowns rushing from running back S.J. Worrell. With a deep receiving corps of David Brown, David Smith, David Pressley, Kelton Tindal and Brandon Bostick, Gantt has plenty of veteran skill players around him.
"We're ready to focus on staying balanced and at the same time utilize all of our weapons," he said. "If we can find a way to incorporate the running game and the passing game, I'll be excited. The sky is the limit for our offense."
Knight agrees, especially with Gantt leading the way.
"I'd like to have a good balance, and last week it came into play (against Catawba)," he said. "When Brandon gets the ball to our playmakers, they do a good job. I told him, 'Let's get them the ball and let them do what they do best.' "
Gantt's character shines as much off the field as on it.
An early-childhood education major with a minor in Spanish, he carries a 3.96 grade-point average and belongs to numerous campus organizations. Recognized for his academic excellence by the conference, he serves as an English and Spanish tutor on campus. The National Football Foundation recently announced he is one of 154 student-athlete semifinalists across all divisions nationally - including 15 from Division II - in the running for the Campbell Trophy, an award that also comes with a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship.
"He's the poster child of this program, so to speak," Knight said. "He's a winner in all phases of his life."
Knight couldn't be happier that Gantt landed at Newberry after his first college choice of Middle Tennessee State didn't work out. He played safety as a freshman for the Blue Raiders. But the long distance back to South Carolina - and his single mom, Cynthia Ray - as well as being moved to defense lost its appeal, and he began to look to return.
"It was hard playing as a freshman and not having her there to cheer me on," Gantt said.
John Daye, his coach at Heathwood Hall, helped facilitate the search and found a match in Newberry, which was looking for another quarterback and, as a Division II school, would not require him to sit out a year.
The move also has allowed Daye to watch his former star play at the collegiate level. He has been impressed with Gantt's maturation at quarterback.
"He's very much comfortable in his situation. He's at the point where he wants to assume command," Daye said. "Todd Knight did it the way you should. The job is his. He's got to go with it."
The switch to Newberry has worked out in other ways, too. Gantt and his wife, Beatriz, live off-campus with a young daughter. Knight and Daye continue to see the off-field maturation as well.
"He's a great husband. He's a great father," Knight said.
Not to mention a great fulltime quarterback.
"It's been a perfect fit for him," Knight said. "And it's been a good fit for us, too."