September 6, 2012

Enjoying the Ride: Bratton ready for next step

There’s something about being a Montreal Alouette that makes you a winner.

Whatever it is, Brian Bratton has it.

Maybe it’s that winning attitude; the immense attention to detail; the amount of preparation that goes into every second of every game; the selfless mentality in the room; or the constant emphasis on self-improvement.

If that’s what defines winning, then the 30-year-old receiver fits right in.

Bratton’s winning mentality
“Yeah I’d love to have a thousand yards and obviously I’d love to win the Grey Cup, that’s the number one goal, but ultimately I want to enjoy playing the game because it doesn’t last forever.”

– Alouettes receiver Brian Bratton

Bratton played a major role in the Als’ exhilarating 30-25 win over the first-place BC Lions last weekend, hauling in five catches for a game-high 91 yards.

The meaning of that game couldn’t possibly be overstated – it wasn’t just Montreal’s fourth straight win, but it came against a Lions team that’s looked unstoppable over the past month, with a defence that appeared impenetrable.

Yet quarterback Anthony Calvillo made it look easy, making it a record-setting eighth straight game with 300-plus passing yards and exposing a tricky, veteran Lions defence to the tune of 30 points.

It’s hard not to get excited about something like that, but then again, a true winner acts like he’s done it before. For Bratton and the Als, it’s already on to the next one.

“Obviously BC’s a good team, but you can’t really rest on the fact that you won last week, you have to go back to work and treat it as if it was a normal game,” says Bratton. “We just went back to work just like we normally do, and the guys work hard, the coaches pushed us like they always do, and hopefully we’ll have a good result come Saturday.”

Beat the top team in the league – no big deal. That’s just the way the Wheeling, West Virginia native is – even-keeled and always looking to improve. Never settling.

It’s been a breakout season of sorts for Bratton, who has 389 yards in just seven games this season to go along with three touchdown receptions. That puts him on pace to top last season’s career high of 675 receiving yards, but the veteran pass-catcher says he’s only just getting started.

“Coming into this season I knew it was going to be different, that I was going to be playing a different role,” he says. “I just knew it would be different, and I worked as hard as I could in the off-season, I had the best off-season training I’ve ever had so I felt if I put in the work, then I could get something out of it that would be positive.”

“I definitely had high expectations, I had them when I came in and I still have them.”

Bratton’s expectations should be no surprise, given he’s shown major improvement in each and every season he’s been with the team. He’s been a model of consistency in the Als’ receiving corps, accumulating no fewer than 500 receiving yards in each of his last four seasons.

And if you put Bratton now beside Bratton in 2008, there’s really no comparison.

“It’s night and day,” he says. “First coming into the CFL, you’re jumping into a whole new league, and really a whole new game. So I think it’s a big difference. I’ve seen a huge difference from year to year.”

The wideout spent a lot of time moving around before finally finding his permanent home in Montreal. After a highly-celebrated career at Furman University, he attended training camps with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.

After failing to stick with the Ravens in ’05, Bratton was allocated to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe, before joining the Nashville Kats of the Arena Football League the following year.

But that was short-lived, and in 2007, Bratton found a new home north of the border. The adjustment to the Canadian game wasn’t easy for the receiver, but when current Head Coach Marc Trestman arrived, things became a little easier.

“When Coach Trestman came in, it was more of an NFL-style, or U.S.-style offence, and it basically fit the CFL,” says Bratton. “I fit in perfectly because that’s where I had been, in that type of offence, so it’s been good for me.”

“The game has slowed down tremendously, seeing the defence and understanding how people move out there on the field, it’s just a whole different level of comfort, especially this year compared to the first few years.”

He recalls being roommates with Ben Cahoon one season, one of the most prolific players the CFL’s ever seen, and how playing alongside so many experienced veterans have helped Bratton learn the ropes.

“Just having him here was huge, because playing the receiver position you always look for a guy who’s been around the block, and plays the same style of ball you play.”

While Bratton learned a lot from players like Cahoon, Kerry Watkins, and current teammates S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson, he knows that in order to earn the recognition he deserves, he has to put up the numbers.

With two Grey Cup rings already on the shelf, the next goal for the Als’ emerging threat is to eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season. But more than that, he wants to show that he’s a valuable piece of the Alouette offence.

“I know that my teammates look at me as a guy that can lineup anywhere, run any route, I can win with speed, I can win with route-running ability, I’m a blocker – I don’t mind blocking and getting my hands dirty,” says Bratton. “I can run the ball, I can return kicks. I can pretty much do it all.”

While he’s not counting, Bratton is 611 yards off his first career 1,000 yard season. It seems like a lot, but now that he’s gotten an early-season hamstring injury out of the way, it’s full speed ahead.

Bratton says he felt like he played his best football yet in the team’s recent win over the Lions, and that he felt more focused on every play than he’s ever been before.

Now, with the Als in Vancouver for a second straight meeting with the Lions, he’ll look to duplicate that success, both on a team and individual level.
If last week was their biggest challenge of the season, this week it only gets bigger.

“BC’s a good team, and everybody knows that,” says Bratton. “We don’t even really think about our success last week, we’ve kind of cleaned the slate, it’s a new game.”

“We’re going and facing these guys all over again and they’re good. We have to bring our best game and hopefully I can come out and contribute to the team.”

It’s possible that at age 30, Bratton’s best football is still ahead, and the key to being successful over the rest of his career will be enjoying every minute he gets to play.

Whatever it is that defines being a winner, Bratton has it, and it’s the same kind of attitude that’s helped the Als have so much success over the last 14 seasons. Of course, if you ask Bratton, he says he’s simply just along for the ride.

“I’ve accomplished a lot, and I think each year I’ll just go into the game looking forward to enjoying the game even more – not trying to put too much pressure on myself, but just going and having fun and coming out to play,” he says.

“Yeah I’d love to have a thousand yards and obviously I’d love to win the Grey Cup, that’s the number one goal, but ultimately I want to enjoy playing the game because it doesn’t last forever.”