Vince Branstetter sits in an office at Edison High on Wednesday and makes this clear up front: “Don’t call me an offensive guru; I’ve been anything but that.”
OK, granted, there’s been repeated tests of patience for the Tigers’ first-year offensive coordinator, to say nothing of Tigers football fans, even in a 12-1 season that counts their first top division Central Section title in 39 years and a state bowl game Friday at Oceasnside on San Diego County’s north shore.
There was the 14-0 halftime deficit in a 15-14 win over Bakersfield.
There was the 14-6 halftime deficit in a 21-20 win over Clovis North.
There was the 0-0 halftime score in a 24-7 win over Bullard.
There was the 14-0 third-quarter deficit in a 21-14 win over Clovis.
And, finally, there was the 7-7 halftime tie last week in a 21-14 win over Liberty-Bakersfield for the section Division I championship at Sunnyside Stadium.
Notice, however, all wins.
Notice, too, Clovis North’s 33-8 record from 2011-13, with two section titles and a runner-up with Branstetter as offensive coordinator under coach Cory Hall.
The math says 45-9 in four seasons with the former Fresno State tight end given totally authority of the offenses.
“With Vince Branstetter,” Edison coach Matt Johnson says, let’s count: “Championship, championship, runner-up, championship.”
Johnson seized the opportunity to land Branstetter — and three additional Clovis North assistants — when the Broncos’ program was in a coaching transition between Hall and Tim Simons following the 2013 season.
Simons does not express bitterness for the loss of Branstetter.
Conversely, the Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer, in his second go-around as Clovis North’s coach, applauds the man whom he hired as a Broncos junior varsity assistant in 2009: “I saw in Vince work ethics I admired. He worked as long and as hard as it takes to get it done. And he’s also an excellent offensive mind with a very good understanding of defense. He would be an excellent defensive coordinator if given that job tomorrow. He has a natural feel for the game and knows how to adapt to his personnel very well.”
Edison, long known for speed and finesse, has adopted an element of brawn on both sides of the ball that led to its first section top division title since 1975.
And Johnson credits Branstetter in this department for two reasons — a determined, if not flashy, running game in a pro-style offense, and his supervision of an offseason weight training regimen new to the football program.
“That’s what you get with Vince that nobody talks about,” Johnson says. “He establishes toughness; he’s old school, a Jim Sweeney, Pat Hill power football guy.”
Branstetter played for Sweeney as a freshman out of Western-Anaheim in 1996 before playing for Hill the next three seasons. Meanwhile, he learned Bulldogs offense by osmosis from coordinator Jeff Tedford.
And that’s the premise by which Branstetter operates today.
“Jeff was a great offensive mind,” says Branstetter, who graduated with a degree in deaf education at Fresno State and teaches special education at Edison. “He taught me you don’t necessarily have to run the ball to win a game and you don’t necessarily have to throw the ball to win, either. A pro-style offense allows you to do multiple things, fine tune it and build from there. It allows for a lot of creativity, although I wouldn’t say our creativity in my first year here is where it’s going to be in the future.”
Branstetter actually takes no credit for the Tigers’ play of the year — a 63-yard pass from Hunter Swearingen to Kamron Lewis on third-and-9, breaking a 14-14 tie against Liberty with 6 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.
The play, called “Hum Trail 14 2 Z Sail,” was intended to find Juwan Murphy or Tyler Horton on shorter routes for a first down. But when those routes were covered, in part by the Patriots’ safety, Lewis beat Liberty star Braylin Scott on a deep post, and Swearingen connected in stride.
“We haven’t thrown the post on the play all year in a game or practice,” Branstetter says. “And when Hunter set his feet and let it go, I was thinking, ‘What is he doing?’ From there on, it was pretty much pandemonium.”