ABOUT THIS SERIES
Each Friday leading up to the first week of high school football, the Forsyth County News will highlight one player from each team who could be poised for a breakout season.
Michael Branigan’s college football viewing will be much different this fall.
Last year, the Forsyth Central quarterback devoted his Saturdays to watching Air Force or Georgia Tech or Navy, teams whose triple-option offenses allowed Branigan to gain insight into the Bulldogs’ Wing-T offense.
This year, Branigan plans to watch Ohio State or Oklahoma State or Oregon, teams whose spread offenses will mirror the one the rising senior now gets to run under first-year head coach Shane Williamson.
On the couch and on the field, a lot is about to change for Branigan.
"It’s definitely going to be a lot more exciting," Branigan said. "Moving the ball around a lot, no-huddle, just a go, go, go offense.
"I think the way we’re doing it, we’re striving for perfection every day at practice, and that’s going to make it very entertaining for everyone on Friday nights."
Central football has lacked entertainment value. The Bulldogs haven’t had a winning season since 2001. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1997. Last season, Central finished 2-8, its only wins coming against Cambridge and North Springs, teams who went a combined 1-19.
For all its struggles, though, Central averaged 24.1 points a game last season, the fifth best scoring average in school history, with Branigan as a first-year starter at quarterback.
Yet, the Wing-T turned Branigan into a runner rather than a thrower. He rushed for 871 yards and 11 touchdowns on 179 carries while attempting just 60 passes. He completed 32 for 558 yards and five touchdowns.
Regardless, Branigan relished his first year with the controls of Central’s offense. Growing up, he’d been a full back or tight end. "I was usually a bigger, heavier kid," Branigan said. His first time under center was in seventh grade at Otwell Middle School. His first varsity action was at running back where he started the last half of his sophomore season.
But, all along, Branigan wanted to be a quarterback. Because his dad had been one, going from running back to starting quarterback when the spot opened up at his high school in Rochester, N.Y. Because he appreciated the wide-angle view of the game from behind center, like he gets as an outfielder on Central’s baseball team. Because he enjoys a challenge, like he gets from taking AP Physics and Calculus this year or in being the junior class’s representative for Students Against Destructive Decisions last year.
"I’ve just been raised to try to be a part of everything and do the best I can," Branigan said. "I take that into everything I do. I like to challenge myself."
Williamson offered Branigan his latest challenge. When the first-year coach was hired in early spring, Williamson immediately held quarterback classes. Early in the morning, Branigan sat in the team’s field house while Williamson diagrammed formations and plays on a whiteboard.
He absorbed every detail of the spread offense – where players would be on each play, how certain plays set up the next play.
Branigan had to be ahead of everyone else before spring practice so he could teach his teammates.
"I’m really football-minded," Branigan said. "I really love the game, so I think I picked it up pretty easily. Seeing everything just really made sense. I really love this offense. I like the way it works out, where everyone had to be on every play and the way things worked. Everything came together as a big offense."
For sure, Branigan’s arm will get far more use than his legs this season. He can already feel the difference, so he ices his arm every night after practice.
Central’s offense this season will depend on it far more than it ever has.
"As [Williamson] came in, he was like, ‘You’re going to be the leader here,’" Branigan said. "We know what we want. The team is yours.’"