Football Writers Association of America Jan. 3, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Richardson
Running back plays through complications of blood disease

TEMPE, Ariz. (FWAA) University of Toledo football coach Tom Amstutz figured he needed only one story to explain why William Bratton was presented with the Football Writers Association of America Courage Award on Friday.

Bratton, who was the starting tailback for the Rockets before a broken ankle ended his season in late October, played college football despite dealing with a sickle cell anemia- related blood disorder.

William Bratton accepts the FWAA first courage award at the organization's annual awards breakfast in Tempe, Ariz.

The disorder sometimes caused him agonizing pain and left him weakened.

Early in the week before Toledo's game against Central Florida this season, he had to be hospitalized, the second time that had happened in his college career.

"I visited him in the hospital. He was on a morphine (intravenous) drip and he said, 'I should be out in time to play Saturday,'" Amstutz said. "He was in the hospital on Tuesday, his muscles were so sore he could hardly move and he's saying in a couple days I should be able to play for you, coach."

Bratton, a 5-foot-8, 225-pound tailback, played against Central Florida, scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run and rushed for 81 yards on 18 carries.

"I just wanted to do anything to help my team win, as long as it wasn't a 50-yard run," Bratton said, with a smile. "If it was two or three yards, I could get it."

This is the first year the Football Writers have presented the Courage Award. It is sponsored by ESPN The Magazine.

Bratton also got to attend the Fiesta Bowl game between Ohio State and Miami and spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Phoenix.

"I was shocked," Bratton said of his first reaction to learning he had won the national award. "I didn't think I was up there with people who have had a harder time than me. But I was really excited I won the award, that somebody would see what I was doing."

Bratton might have been the only one surprised by his selection. His college football career spanned six seasons. All but one of those seasons included serious injuries or long periods of inactivity, in addition to the blood disorder.

But every time, he came back to try to play again.

He rushed for 1,862 yards his senior season at Lima Senior High in 1996 when the Spartans won the Division I state title. He gained 1,060 yards as a junior.

He began his college career at Toledo by sitting out the 1997 season because he did not meet NCAA academic standards to receive an athletic scholarship, then was redshirted his second year.

He rushed for 486 yards and scored four touchdowns in 1999 as a backup tailback but was limited to 35 carries the next year by problems caused by the blood disorder.

In 2001, he suffered a fracture in his lower back in Toledo's first game and missed the rest of the season. That allowed him to successfully petition the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver so he could play this season.

Bratton beat out several highly regarded younger running backs for the starting job in preseason camp last August. He rushed for 639 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Rockets' first eight games, but a broken left ankle cut short his season again.

"He has overcome a lot of different things. He's really been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches," Amstutz said. "He doesn't ever feel sorry for himself. He goes to hospitals and grade schools and talks to kids with the sickle cell trait. He's a messenger for the cause."

The message of just how much Bratton was going through to play football at a high level was emphasized to Toledo's coaches and veteran players every time a new crop of freshmen arrived, Amstutz said.

"During a practice or game, if he didn't feel right, he would let us know. He goes through incredible pain. We've seen freshmen look at him and say, 'Coach, there's something wrong with Will.' They're scared to death, and Will is just calmly adjusting to the situation," he said.

Bratton will graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice this spring. He was scheduled to play in the Paradise Senior Bowl in St. George, Utah, on Jan. 26 and hopes that might lead to some sort of professional football contract.

Jim Naveau, Lima (Ohio) News

Related link:
FedEx Orange Bowl Courage Award