High School Football
From 2000 through 2001, Branch attended the University of Louisville (UL) after transferring from Jones County Junior College (in Ellisville, Mississippi) in 1999. He was very productive at the wide receiver position for both schools. In his freshman season at Jones County Junior College he caught 37 passes for 639 yards (17.7 avg) and five touchdowns. He improved upon those numbers in his sophomore year when he hauled in a total of 69 passes for 1,012 yards (14.7 avg) and nine touchdowns.
Following his sophomore season he transferred to the University of Louisville and had an immediate impact on the college's football team. In his 2000 junior season, starting in 10 games, he led the Cardinals (UL football team), with 71 receptions for 1,016 yards (14.3 avg) and nine touchdowns. For his successful season, he was voted the team's Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Offensive Performer. The next season (2001), his senior year, he almost repeated his 2000 production as he once again led the team in both receiving yards and receptions as he caught 72 passes for 1,188 yards and nine touchdowns. He was also named a team captain in 2001.
Branch finished his playing time at the University of Louisville with 143 receptions for 2,204 yards (15.4 avg) and 18 touchdowns. He ranks sixth all time in total receptions (143), forth in receiving yards (2,204) and receiving touchdowns (18) for University of Louisville.
In 2002, the New England Patriots drafted Branch in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft. In his rookie season on the Patriots he played in thirteen and started seven games (at wide receiver) and contributed both as a wide receiver and kickoff returner. Branch finished second among all rookies in with 43 receptions and third with 489 receiving yards. In the forth week of the regular season, in a 21-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers, he set a Patriots rookie record for receptions in a single game with 13. Contributing also in returning kicks, Branch returned 36 kickoffs for 863 (24.0 avg). In September, was named the NFL offensive rookie of the month. Branch missed the last three games of the 2002 season with an injury.
In 2003, Branch played in 15 and started 11 regular season games for the Patriots. He was the Patriots leading receiver with 57 receptions for 803 yards and three touchdowns. He also started in all three of the Patriots postseason games and was a crucial part of the Patriots Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers in which game he caught 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. His tenth reception in the game (17 yard catch) set up the winning field goal for the Patriots with nine seconds left.
The 2004 season started off slowly for Branch as he was injured in a freak play by one of his own teammates in the third week (second game) of the regular season. The injury made him sit out the next seven games of the season. When he returned, on a week eleven Monday Night Football game vs the Kansas City Chiefs, he had one of his best games up to that point in his career, catching six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He finished the 2004 regular season playing in and starting nine games with 35 total receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns. Starting in all three of the Patriots postseason games, Branch had big games in both the AFC Championship game and in the Super Bowl. In the AFC Championship game vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, his 4 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown along with a two rushing attempts for yards and a touchdown, helped the Patriots reach the Super Bowl for the second straight year. The greatest game of his professional career came two weeks later, in Super Bowl XXXVIII vs the Philadelphia Eagles. Seemingly uncoverable, Branch tied the Super Bowl record with 11 receptions and had 133 receiving yards. For his great game, he was named the games Most Valuable Player.
In 2005, Branch set personal statical highs for himself and also led the Patriots in receptions (78), yards (998), and touchdowns (5). He played in all sixteen and started fifteen of the Patriots regular season games. In the 2005 postseason, Branch had a great game in the AFC divisional game loss to the Denver Broncos. In the game he had eight receptions for 153 receiving yards (a Patriots playoff record).