Brandon Vincent Nalnishi-Shirley helped the Flagstaff High football team in their journey to the state playoffs.
It was the first time in nearly 14 years since the Eagles made it this far. Although they lost, it was an achievement for the team to make it to the qualifiers despite the turbulent 2020 season.
According to both parents and coaches, Brandon brought a lot of skill to the team as a left tackle lineman.
According to Bob Castillo, Flagstaff High’s assistant coach, factors like training from a young age and being coached by professional football coaches contributed to making Brandon a valuable player.
“He is a blue-chipper,” Castillo said. “The coaches that worked with him at Skyline (High School) really developed him into a class A football player. He earned first-team all-region honor there, offensive tackle. He brought all of that experience to Flag High for us.
“I definitely tapped into his knowledge of what he picked up there” he said. “At this point, he’s just another coach on the line.”
Brandon grew up watching football from a young age. He first started playing the sport in the 5th grade at age 12 while attending Tuba City Boarding School.
“I still remembered when the coach gave me the slip saying I was on the football team,” Brandon said. “I always carry that with me.”
Brandon’s clan is Manygoats, born for the Coyote Pass Clan. He was born into a loving family that includes his father, Vincent P. Shirley Jr., his mother, Evangeline Shirley, sister Cheyanna, and brother Adriano.
He also has the love and support from his grandparents, Benjamin and Mary Worker, and his aunt Jessica Worker and uncle Rick Worker.
“The focus has been on helping him get his education,” Vincent said. “That was the priority. And everything we have done, moving to Phoenix, working down there, and then coming back to Flagstaff, that’s always been a priority as far as education and sports activities being second.”
He played football, ran track and field, and wrestled. But football is his passion.
Lessons of life
It’s a sport that brings the family together, teaches him about life, and helps him mature into a young adult.
“It always goes: God, family, school and football,” Brandon said. “Those are the top things that I live by because a lot of things in football applies to life. There’s going to be adversity in your life.
“You’re going to have to learn how to overcome it like I’m only six-foot-one and a lot of the opponents I face are usually six-foot to six-five guys weighing 250 to 300 pounds and just learning how to figure out how I would approach them or watching film on them and learning how I can improve myself as a player, and it’s just a product of life,” he said. “It really has helped me, and I truly believe football is life.”
Brandon first attended Flagstaff High in 2016, but later the family moved to the Valley before the end of his freshman year when he got the invite to play at Skyline High in Mesa. He was taught by professional football coaches in the 6A division. Brandon stayed with them, earning much recognition while at Skyline.
He was the 2019-20 6A Arizona Conference East Valley first team All-Region offensive lineman tackle, was named Navajo Times All-Star in 2019, and offensive lineman MVP in 2018.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the family moved back to Flagstaff so they could help Brandon’s grandparents. Brandon returned to Flagstaff High where he was welcomed with open arms.
“This is a young man that I’m just so glad that came back to Flagstaff High,” Costillo said. “There’s a saying, ‘Once an eagle always an eagle.’ He brought that back to us and fit right in.
“I learned from him as a coach by what he brought to the program,” he said. “He was just so easy to get along with. The kids took to him. I’m really going to miss a young man like that, but whatever he does in life, he going to succeed because of his work ethic and attitude, and all of his abilities to be able to work through adversity.
“For young men like Brandon to overcome these obstacles, it just shows a lot about him and his character,” he said.
An integral part
Brandon is a left tackle who plays on the line, a rather important role in football.
“That’s an integral part in protecting the quarterback from the backside, and Brandon is definitely an anchor at that left defensive tackle,” Costillo said. “He’s also brought with him experience. He has helped me even with the many years I’ve coached.
“I learned from Brandon not only the different techniques that he used and work ethics but also he’s an inspiration to the other players,” he said, “and they look to him for leadership. He communicates on the line of scrimmage with the players, and it’s just exciting to see him play.”
“Being an offensive lineman, I’m almost guaranteed contact in every single play,” Brandon said. “And over time, from fifth grade all the way up to now, I have always been effective in stopping people.”
Despite planning on having only a seven-game season, the team was pleasantly surprised when told they were going to the playoffs, the first Flagstaff team to do so in over a decade.
“Honestly, I felt this (playoff game) was the best game I played,” Brandon said. “It was ultimately a team effort. We encouraged each other the week of the playoff game along with receiving motivation from our coaches.
“Coaches communicated and emphasized, ‘We win as a team, and we lose as a team!’” he said. “Going up against the fifth-ranked team in the 4A Conference was a great experience. They had a strong, balanced defense and had a high-scoring offense, which made the experience that much more of an opportunity to show my skills against a top-ranked defensive end, linebackers, and defensive tackles.”
Although they lost to American Leadership Academy, he still considered it a great way to end his 2020 season.
A senior year highlight
“This season was also very special to me because I focused on my practices, playing time, commitment, and reflected on the struggles that challenged me,” Brandon said. “Out of my eight years of playing football, I have never missed a game. I was truly fortunate to be a starter and help mentor other players to perform at their best.
“We started out this season with many unknowns due to the pandemic,” he said. “Going to the playoffs was the highlight of my senior year, a very emotional and exciting time, and a night I will never forget.”
Both parents and coaches believe that Brandon has a very bright future ahead of him.
“I think what college coaches and scouts look for in players is how flexible a player is when coming into the program and what are his strengths,” Castillo said. “They look more at his attitude, being able to be a good learner, fast learning, and able to quickly adapt to their program.
“So, I think they’d be able to see those qualities in him,” he said. “He can compete for any position on the line, and given his ability with college coaching, he could be at any position.”
His family likewise is very proud of him.
“Brandon is a God-fearing young man,” Vincent said. “He has a lot to offer this world, and he is a Christ-centered individual who continues to stay humble in everything he does.
“He doesn’t boast about this and that,” he said. “He lets his work do the talking, and that’s something I’ve seen, and something that us, his family members, have shown to the outside world as far as work and education, the things we obtain we show through our work and our efforts, and that’s something we instilled in him, and he has a long life to make things happen, whether its college football or going far and beyond in his educational studies.”
Brandon hopes to continue playing football at the next level and although he isn’t sure which college he wants to go to, he has already received many letters and invites from schools across the region. He hopes one day to get a degree in sports medicine and help people in the future.
“There are many things I want to do,” Brandon said. “I’d love to spread the word of God as a missionary.
“I’d want the opportunity to coach football on the reservation,” he said, “to help and inspire young men and women, to encourage them that despite their challenges they can improve themselves and to learn how to succeed.”