Brandon Gwinner’s first game as a professional football player in Turkey ended with a big win and a most valuable player award in his possession.
The 22-year-old Schenectady High School graduate never got a chance to do it again.
“Turkey was going amazingly well,” the quarterback said from his Schenectady home Thursday afternoon. “Once the virus hit, we were quarantined.”
Like so many athletes worldwide, Gwinner was placed in a holding pattern a few months back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now he is just waiting for the day that he can once again play the sport he loves. He competed for four seasons at Morrisville State and spent another one playing in Australia before his brief, though successful stay with the Yeditepe Eagles of the Turkish League of American Football.
That stay, which began in January, was highlighted by a 43-0 win over the Gazililer Warriors, when Gwinner passed for three touchdowns and 300 yards and ran for 112, which featured an 80-yard dash.
“I was looking to take that next step,” Gwinner said of his move from Australia to Turkey, where both the competition level and his pay scale were better. “This is what I wanted.”
After that first game, he yearned for more in a league that he likened to ‘”good semi-pro in the United States” and with a bunch of guys he was starting to jell with.
“We practiced for a month and went through some hard times, but going out on the field and seeing what we could do, we definitely would have done well,” Gwinner said.
Gwinner was one of three American players on the team, and some of his teammates spoke no English.
“I had to learn the basic language,” he said. “A lot of players on the team spoke broken English, so I could get my point across. We still had some problems, but it would have gotten a lot better.”
Gwinner said he spent two months quarantined in Istanbul in a dorm room on the Yeditepe University campus. He said he went off campus only when necessary and when it was allowed by the governing body there. He lifted weights. Played games on his XBox. Watched cableless TV. Pondered his future.
“Once I heard, I didn’t expect it to be that long,” Gwinner said. “We heard some things about having a season. We waited it out. It was hard.”
Gwinner returned stateside on May 14.
“I knew I was going to go home and do the same thing,” Gwinner said. “I’d rather be with my family.”
His European adventure had started, coincidentally, on May 14, 2019, when he boarded a plane to begin his trip to Australia. Two days before that, he had graduated from Morrisville with a degree in criminal justice.
“After my last season [at Morrisville], I put some film clips and stats and my biography on the Euro Player website,” said Gwinner, who passed for 2,671 yards, ran for 706 and accounted for 31 total touchdowns as a junior and senior with the Mustangs. “Teams wanted me when I was still in school.”
Gwinner led the Brisbane Rhinos of the Australian American Football League to seven wins while passing for 34 touchdowns and 2,200 yards and running for 220 yards and 11 scores.
“Australia is an amazing place, and we had a great season,” the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gwinner said. “We lost one game during the season, and lost by one point in the playoffs to the same team. I threw for three touchdowns and ran for one and was the MVP of the playoff game. I didn’t expect that.”
Impressive efforts dot Gwinner’s career. During his senior year at Schenectady in 2014, he set single-season records with 1,845 passing yards and 18 touchdowns, and set single-game records with 308 yards and five TDs against Guilderland. He started in a Section II senior all-star game victory, and was named a Section II Class AA Liberty Division first-team all-star.
“I want to do this until I can’t do it any more,” said Gwinner, who will be starting a landscaping job in June. “I want football to be my life.”
A return to Turkey could be part of his future, though Gwinner is keeping his options open.
“Germany, Italy and Japan are really good, and my goal is to get to a bigger level,” Gwinner said. “All I can do right now is wait, stay in shape and think about the future and stay positive. I’ve got my name out there.”