‘Quarterback friendly’ Brantley is Western Illinois QB trio’s best buddy this season

Naseim Brantley ranks third in the nation this season with eight touchdown catches for Western Illinois. (Photo by Barry Bottino)

By Barry Bottino

MACOMB – Western Illinois wide receiver Naseim Brantley offers a simple explanation when discussing how he has worked with three different quarterbacks this season.

“Just being quarterback friendly,” he said, “and having a relationship with every quarterback.”

This season, Brantley has been the best friend that juniors Clay Bruno and Nick Davenport and graduate student Henry Ogala could ask for. While Western (0-7 overall, 0-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) has rotated QBs throughout the season, Brantley has been superbly steady.

How does he maintain relationships with all three?

“It’s telling them they can trust me whenever they don’t feel comfortable or just being there for them,” he said.

Brantley ranks third nationally with eight touchdown catches and 19th in receiving yards per game with a 90.3 average. He also leads the Leathernecks with 34 receptions and 622 yards.

Naseim Brantley

“Nas is incredible,” WIU head coach Myers Hendrickson said. “He’s such a great leader by example. He shows up, goes to work every day, loves his teammates, has a great relationship with teammates. That just carries over into the QB room, and it feeds a lot of confidence into the quarterbacks. But he also raises the level of play of our other receivers.”

In last week’s 28-27 loss to Youngstown State at Hanson Field, Brantley caught a pair of touchdown passes in a span of 4 minutes, 4 seconds in the fourth quarter to give Western a 10-point lead.

Brantley caught a 25-yard scoring pass over the middle and followed that with a leaping 5-yard TD on a fade route.

“They were basically playing man coverage, and I can win that matchup every time,” he said of the fade.

If the Leathernecks are to break their nine-game losing streak dating back to last season, Brantley is likely to play a starring role. Western gets its next opportunity Saturday at Missouri State (2-5, 0-4).

At times when Bruno struggled against Youngstown, Brantley shared a familiar, calming message to his teammate.

“Next play,” he said. “One play at a time, take our time and execute. If we play together as a team, we’ll be alright.”

This week’s opponent

The Bears have been one of the most disappointing teams in the nation. In the preseason FCS national poll, they were ranked fifth and considered a lock to make the playoffs. Senior quarterback Jason Shelley, who was the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year last season, has 13 passing touchdowns and five interceptions through seven games, but only two rushing TDs. In 2021, he rushed for 10 touchdowns. He has been sacked 34 times this season. … Missouri State’s defense has been a major sore spot, allowing nearly 34 points and 471 yards a game. The Bears’ pass defense ranked as the MVFC’s worst at 299.9 yards allowed per game. … Ty Scott has been the team’s most productive wide receiver. He has four TDs and leads the team in receptions (35) and receiving yards per game (76.1).

(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: Q981FM.com)

Key matchup to watch

Western pass rush vs. Missouri State O-line: The Bears have struggled to protect Shelley, giving up 34 sacks this season. However, Western ranks 112th nationally out of 123 FCS teams with eight sacks in seven games. Getting to Shelley will be crucial for the Leathernecks to affect the outcome.  

What’s at stake?

The Leathernecks are seeking their first road with since Sept. 25, 2021, when they won in Youngstown, Ohio, beating the Penguins, 38-35, on a late field goal.

Quick hits

Bruno, who started at quarterback against Youngstown, finished 11-for-30 passing against the Penguins last weekend. Despite the 37% completion percentage, he opened Hendrickson’s eyes while leading the team to 20 second-half points with two fourth-quarter TD passes. “His clutch throws really showed up at the times we needed them most,” Hendrickson said. “Three touchdowns and no interceptions. I’ll take that every day.” … Western is one of only eight winless teams remaining in FCS. That group includes Robert Morris, Long Island University, Central Connecticut State, Murray State, Drake, Lamar and Mississippi Valley State.

One response to “‘Quarterback friendly’ Brantley is Western Illinois QB trio’s best buddy this season”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: