Naseim Brantley (3) averaged more than 18 yards a reception last season at FCS Sacred Heart. (Photo by SacredHeartPioneers.com)
By Barry Bottino
Western Illinois had multiple players challenging for the starting quarterback job this fall. No matter who was under center, though, Naseim Brantley was ready.
“You’ve got to build a relationship with every quarterback, just in case,” he said. “I take pride in that. It will help me a lot. If they can believe in me and trust in me, and I can trust them, that works better on the field. That’s how you win games.”
Brantley, a graduate transfer from FCS Sacred Heart, is one of four Fresh Faces at WIU this fall, as chosen by Prairie State Pigskin. He is among the new players who will take on a big role for the Leathernecks.
Brantley led SHU with 455 receiving yards last season on 25 catches, an average of more than 18 yards per reception.
“I’m a big playmaker,” he said about his game. “I catch a lot of jump balls. I make big-time, consistent catches. I’m the guy that goes and makes the play if you need it to be made.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Brantley ranked eighth in the Northeast Conference last season in receiving yards per game.
He doesn’t, however, expect to be a one-man show in the offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback when the Leathernecks open the season Sept. 1 at UT-Martin.
“We have a lot of different looks (on offense), and we have a lot of weapons,” said Brantley, a New Jersey native. “We’re going to use all our weapons. It’s going to be a very interesting season.”
Kyle Dobbins, RB, Junior
During his time at FBS Temple, Dobbins was always part of a crowded running back room and got limited work. However, he posted a three-touchdown game against Wagner in 2021.
Dobbins (5-10, 200) is a welcome addition as WIU’s leading rusher last season gained only 499 yards. In addition, Western hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Nikko Watson ran for 1,196 yards in 2015.
As a high school player in New Jersey, Dobbins was the No. 2 ranked running back in the state in the 2018 class.
Tyler Malakius, DL, Junior
One of the most intriguing off-season additions for the Leathernecks, Malakius made his way to Macomb from Athens, Ga., and the reigning FBS champion Georgia Bulldogs.
At 6-3 and 280 pounds, Malakius offers some bulk up front for WIU, which gave up a whopping 209.7 yards a game on the ground a year ago. Malakius walked on at Georgia in 2019. The first game action of his career came in a non-conference win against Charleston Southern.
Corey Scott, CB, Junior
Scott has been a standout in fall camp and should see significant playing time alongside returning WIU starting cornerback J.J. Ross.
A product of Reedley College in California, Scott was named an honorable mention All-Valley Conference player last season after leading the league in pass breakups with 11, which ranked second in the entire California junior college system. Scott also has good size to match up with bigger receivers at 6-2 and 195 pounds.