It takes a special crossing of hard work and fate to be considered among the best, but Soldotna head football coach Galen Brantley Jr. has no problem putting Brenner Furlong near the top of the SoHi football list.
“He’s one of those rare young guys that’s committed to absolutely everything we’ve asked him to do,” Brantley Jr. explained. “Whether it be the weight room in the mornings, after school, (encouraging) him to do wrestling, run sprints. There’s nothing he was unwilling to do.”
That level of effort and hard work is now sending Furlong to college athletics.
Furlong signed his letter of intent Wednesday to play football at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, where he will be competing on a full scholarship.
Dakota State is an NAIA school that competes in the North Star Athletic Conference. In 2017, the Trojans went 8-3 overall and finished second in the NSAC with a 6-2 conference record.
“It was really something I’ve never done before,” Furlong said in describing the signing process. “No one in my family has played college sports.”
Furlong’s signing capped an illustrious prep career at Soldotna that saw the Stars go undefeated. SoHi is currently on a state record win streak of 59 games that dates to 2012, when Furlong was in seventh grade.
As a two-way player, Furlong provided a boost to the Stars running game. Brantley Jr. said after the graduation of star running back Drew Gibbs in 2016, SoHi looked deep for another ball carrier that could inject speed and power into the offensive attack.
“He is explosive,” Brantley Jr. said. “He could take a five-yard run 60 yards, and he was dangerous.
“He added a dimension to our offense that we had been lacking since Gibbs.”
Furlong captured 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a junior, which go to the top football player in the state, regardless of division, and is a two-time NLC Offensive Player of the Year.
In 2017, Furlong led all peninsula backs with 1,214 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, and nearly averaged a full first down per carry.
Brantley Jr. said it was the willingness to take on new ventures, such as joining the wrestling team, that helped his football game.
“A lot of kids want to do what they want to do, and he never had that attitude,” he said.
In addition to his prowess on the turf, Furlong was also a Class 4A state champion in the 400-meter dash during his junior track and field season, with a career best of 51.33 seconds in the 400. Furlong said he will also be competing on the Dakota State track team.
Furlong said part of the reason he decided to sign with Dakota State after several other schools pitched him offers was the team’s reluctance willingness to play him in the Trojan offense.
“The defensive coordinator recruited me, but once the offensive coordinator saw my film, he said, ‘Sorry, you just lost him on defense’,” Furlong explained.
The SoHi senior, the son of Shelli Furlong, said he is currently undecided on what he will be studying in Madison, but said he plans on taking on a career in law enforcement, like his father Jon.
Jon Furlong passed away after battling Scleroderma, a rare skin disease, on Nov. 3, 2013, when Furlong was in eighth grade. A correction officer, Furlong’s father pushed and inspired his sons to be the best that they could be, Brenner said, adding that Wednesday’s signing was made all the sweeter knowing that his dad’s help paid off.
“That’s why my brother (Brooks) and I did athletics,” Furlong said. “Quitting wasn’t an option.
“That’s one of the main reasons I did it, knowing how proud it would make my family.”
He added that his father and coaches encouraged him to take up wrestling to pad his offseason work.
“My dad said if it’s going to benefit and make you better, you do it,” Furlong said.