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
The disorder sometimes caused him agonizing pain and left him
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
"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
• FedEx Orange Bowl Courage