End of the rainbow
Colt Brennan, he’s been everywhere, man:
Laguna Beach, born there, 1983.
Santa Ana. Played quarterback at Mater Dei High, once serving as backup to Matt Leinart.
Worcester Academy, Massachusetts. One year of finishing school, although Brennan was far from done.
Colorado. Walked on, spent a redshirt year, got into trouble after walking drunk into a woman’s dorm room, pleaded guilty to trespassing and burglary charges, spent seven days in jail, and was dismissed from the football team.
Saddleback College. Transferred there, led the team to a conference championship as he continued his image makeover.
University of Hawaii. Landed as a castaway, might as well have floated in on a raft, became a starter, and then a star. Tossed 93 touchdown passes in two years for the Warriors, developed into a pro prospect, learned to call plays in Samoan, learned to be a man.
“If football didn’t work out, I was going to find a nice little hut and chill out for the rest of my life,” Brennan said in rapid-fire cadence during a recent interview. “But then football worked out.”
You could say that.
He finished sixth in last year’s Heisman Trophy balloting and plans as a senior to kick it up a notch as Hawaii enters the season with a chance to earn the WAC’s second straight bid to a Bowl Championship Series game.
Brennan opted not to leave early for the NFL despite being told he probably would have been a second-round pick. He turned 24 on Aug. 16 and returns to continue reworking the NCAA record book and his image.
“When I was going through a lot of the rough times, it was a very surreal moment for me,” Brennan said. “And now going through all the good times, it’s a surreal moment for me. It’s kind of hard to fathom. Right now, you’re taking it for what it’s worth and trying to do it right and not mess it up.”
On the field and in life, Brennan is trying to stand tall in the pocket.
He still has a reputation to live down. He knows character questions will haunt him again next year when he prepares for the NFL draft.
It’s tough enough trying to convince the NFL that a run-and-shoot-system quarterback can make it in the pros (see Andre Ware, David Klingler, Timmy Chang).
Brennan is borderline NFL in size at 6 feet 3 and only 205 pounds, and the league’s recent crackdown on bad guys makes it essential for Brennan to prove he’s not one.
“Once the season’s over it will probably resurface and I’ll have to deal with it,” Brennan said of his past.
Brennan would not be able to match Leinart’s linear, rocket-like rise to stardom even though he tried to mimic Leinart’s style after getting his chance at Mater Dei.
“And it was horrible, because that’s not me,” Brennan said. “I’m not Matt Leinart.”
Who was he?
The Colorado mess left Brennan isolated and unpopular with scholarship givers. Syracuse backed off and San Jose State, which showed interest, was too close to home.
So Brennan went island hopping.
He has made questionable moves in his life, but going to Hawaii was not one of them.
The island offered distance, shelter, stability and the quarterback-knowledge services of Coach June Jones.
“I was embarrassed,” Brennan said of his predicament. “I wanted to get away. . . . Hawaii seemed like just the place to do it.”
Brennan still has a year and half left on the four-year probation he received stemming from his unlawfully entering a coed’s dorm room at Colorado.
He pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and trespassing but another charge, unwanted sexual contact, was vacated for lack of evidence.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Brennan said. “There’s no doubt what happened and what I did and the position I put myself in. I got no one to blame but myself.”
He says it does bother him that some news accounts haven’t told the complete story.
“I really got dragged through the mud by the media,” he said. “. . . The initial articles that came out after I got sentenced were just galaxies away from what I actually got charged with and what actually I got found guilty of.”
Brennan said he only needed to learn this life lesson once.
“It can’t get any worse than that,” he said of his Colorado problems. “I think that walking away from that, you can’t embarrass me, you can’t really humiliate me anymore. I’m just a kid that just wants to play football and enjoy himself and that’s it.”
Brennan is having a lot more fun now.
He sat for a recent interview with his hair in dreadlocks, the price you pay for bonding with your wide receivers.
“I can’t wait to cut it off, to be honest,” Brennan joked.
Brennan has blended into island culture. He knows enough Samoan that he sometimes calls plays in the language at the line of scrimmage: “For the guys on the other side of the ball, they are like, ‘What the hell are they saying?’ ”
Brennan has put up almost mind-boggling numbers. He threw for 4,301 yards and 35 touchdowns in 10 starts before last season and topped that by passing for 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns while breaking or tying 18 NCAA records.
The trick now is to prove he’s more than only numbers.
Jones says the knock on run-and-shoot quarterbacks being “products of a system” is unfair. For every Ware and Klingler who failed on the next level, Jones, a former NFL head coach in Atlanta and San Diego, points to a number of successes:
“Jim Kelly played in our deal, Warren Moon played in our deal,” Jones argued in defense of a pass-happy offense. “Bobby Hebert went to his only Pro Bowl, Jeff George went to his only Pro Bowl, Chris Miller went to his only Pro Bowl.
“Obviously, average quarterbacks or guys in the middle of the range get better and the great ones are great no matter what they do. If Joe Montana was in our system, he’d figure it out.”
Chang, the Hawaii quarterback who preceded Brennan, put up huge passing numbers but, so far, has not stuck in the NFL.
Jones says he doesn’t doubt Brennan’s potential.
“Jeff George, Dan Marino and Colt are the only guys I’ve seen when they release the ball their right foot is off the ground,” Jones said. “I don’t know what it means, but I’m going to start looking for it in high school.”
Jones calls Brennan the most accurate passer he has coached since George.
Even Brennan’s life, it seems, is on the straight and narrow, and football is not the only thing he is passing along.
He likes speaking now to young players at risk. Brennan, after all, was once in their cleats.
“I’ll give them my real kind of shock story,” he said, “and hopefully make sure that none of those kids put themselves in the position I put myself in.”
A look at Colt Brennan’s passing statistics at Hawaii:
*--* YEAR CMP. ATT. YDS. TD INT. 2006 406 559 5,549 58 12 2005 350 515 4,301 35 13 *--*
Some of the single-season NCAA Division I records set by Brennan in 2006:
Most touchdown passes: 58
Most passing yards: 5,549
Highest passing efficiency: 185.96
Most games of 400 yards or more passing: 9