Despite numerous setbacks, Colt Brennan holding onto NFL dreams
A smile came across Colt Brennan's face as he walked off the practice field at the University of Regina. It was June 11, and in a couple days he'd be playing in his first game in almost two years, a period he considers the roughest of his life.
He survived a near-fatal car accident and later, after months of rehabbing, signed with a team in the United Football League, only to see them fold within weeks of the signing.
At that moment, however, the former record-setting Hawaii quarterback was just happy to be playing the game he loves. The Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League offered him an opportunity in training camp to compete for a backup spot, and he'd done all he could to make the team.
Minutes later, that optimism disappeared. A small piece of paper hung from his locker -- "Go check out Brendan," it read, referring to Brendan Taman, the team's general manager. Brennan's heart dropped.
"I knew right then and there," Brennan said of being released. "It was devastating. I thought people were excited to see me get a chance."
Few would have expected a fall like this. Less than six years ago Brennan threw 58 touchdown passes in a season, the most in college football history. Now he can't make it past the first cuts of a CFL team?
Brennan's trying to stay resilient, as hard as it is. He's led a rollercoaster life, with lows (a sexual assault charge that got him kicked off the University of Colorado team, the aforementioned crash among them) and highs (including that record-breaking season at Hawaii), and felt like this could have been his last stop.
"I watched myself go from a jail cell to a Heisman Trophy ceremony," Brennan said. "I figured this would be my second reenactment of that. It never happened.
"To be honest, I have no idea what I'm going to do right now. But I don't think it's over for me."
Brennan, 28, doesn't like talking about his time at the University of Colorado. Not after what happened that fateful night of Jan. 28, 2004, a time that changed so much of his future.
Things were going well early in his freshman year. The Laguna Beach, Calif. native adjusted easily to college and was able to walk on the football team as a quarterback.
All that changed when a female student said he entered her room uninvited, exposed himself, and fondled her. Brennan later admitted he was intoxicated and did not remember much of the night. Nonetheless, a jury found Brennan guilty of second-degree burglary and first-degree trespassing.
An initial charge of sexual assault was dropped after there was an insufficient amount of evidence and he passed a polygraph test. He was sentenced to seven days in jail and four years of probation.
Colorado had no choice but to dismiss Brennan from the team. He hoped to play Division I football elsewhere, but the conviction scared away potential suitors. After narrowing his options, he settled on Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif.
"That place was just the best thing that could have happened to me at the time," Brennan said. "They gave me an opportunity to be free and play ball. Looking back, it was a total life-saver."
Brennan led the Gauchos to an 11-2 record while throwing for 3,395 yards, 31 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Statistics aside, his intangibles caught the eye of college coaches.
"When I watched him on film originally out of junior college, I had never seen a guy with as quick a release and accuracy like he had," former Hawaii coach June Jones said. "I was just in awe."
Jones refused to offer a scholarship based on Brennan's troubled past. He did, however, promise the quarterback that he had a chance to eventually compete for the starting job.
Three years later Brennan left Hawaii as one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history.
A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2007, he finished his career as the NCAA all-time leader in touchdown passes in a season (58), second in total career touchdown passes (131), second in completion percentage (70.4 percent) and was sixth in total passing yards (14,193). Brennan led Hawaii to the 2007 Sugar Bowl.
"He was smart enough to see what he could do in our system and it proved true," Jones, now the head coach at Southern Methodist, said. "He did some unbelievable things. His accuracy, quickness in the pocket, being able to avoid the rush and throw from all different ways accurately, it was just amazing."
Producing impressive numbers in college is one thing. Doing it on the professional level is another, and NFL scouts weren't sold on Colt Brennan.
They said his statistics were inflated because of the "Run and Shoot" offense Hawaii ran. Others mentioned that his competition wasn't tough enough. Most meetings he had with NFL teams consisted of questions primarily regarding his transgressions in Colorado.
According to Brennan, his agent said the Green Bay Packers passed on him because they wanted "someone who likes to play in the cold weather." Though he is from California and played in Hawaii, Brennan spent a year at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts after high school and earned first-team All-New England Prep.
"There were all of these assumptions of who I was as a player," Brennan said of his meetings with NFL personnel. "As far as any teams really inquiring to get to know me, it felt like no one really tried to do that."
Despite his concerns, the Washington Redskins selected Brennan in the sixth round (No. 186 overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. He appeared to play with a chip on his shoulder during the preseason, leading all NFL rookies in touchdown passes (3), passing yards (411) and quarterback rating (109.9).
Unfortunately for Brennan, the hot start didn't continue in 2009. Hoping to push veteran quarterback Todd Collins for the backup spot behind Jason Campbell, he struggled to find his rhythm in the offense. Brennan was later placed on the injured reserve list due to hip and hamstring injuries, then released in August 2010 after Washington acquired quarterback John Beck.
Former Redskins tight end Todd Yoder said he was surprised Brennan's tenure in Washington ended the way it did.
"You saw glimpses in practice and even the preseason of his abilities to be a great quarterback and make throws," Yoder said. "I was excited for him because I think he had the right attitude to come in and be a good player in that system and that level. Everything just kind of piled against him when he got hurt a couple times."
Brennan quickly signed with the Oakland Raiders, "but from early on you got the realization that I was just there to be an extra arm for training camp." The team released him in September.
Out of a job, he split time training at his home in Irvine, Calif. and Phoenix at Fischer Sports, a physical therapy and conditioning center. When he realized no NFL team would come calling, he packed his suitcase and headed to Hawaii to spend time on the Big Island with his girlfriend, Shatki Stream.
Then on November 19, 2010, everything went black.
Brennan has no memory of that morning.
He believes what happened was consistent with his typical schedule: wake up, go to yoga, grab food at a local market and drive to a nearby hotel for beach volleyball.
Heading down Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Makalawena in North Kona, Brennan was in the passenger seat of a Toyota SUV next to Stream. Moments after Brennan began to eat his food, Stream accidentally crossed the centerline and collided with an oncoming sedan.
Both vehicles flipped over on the side of the road. Stream was able to get out on her own. Brennan was pinned inside but quickly helped out of the wreckage. Brennan and Stream, each in serious condition, were rushed to a local hospital. Both suffered broken collarbones; Brennan also had broken ribs and head trauma.
"We started freaking out," Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Leinart, who has known Brennan since middle school, said about hearing the news. "The initial thought was just shock and hope that he would be OK."
Brennan was in a coma but awoke a few days later. He went back to Irvine to temporarily live with his parents and rehab at a small facility in Orange County. When he felt in adequate physical condition three months later, he flew back to Phoenix to train at Fischer Sports.
He began each day -- five days a week -- at 7:30 a.m. by doing soft tissue work to most of his body. Later in the morning he did core strengthening exercises, followed by running and agility training. Brennan typically ended around 1 p.m. with an NFL-type weight lifting program and nutrition to get his body weight back where it needed to be.
For Brett Fischer, founder of Fischer Sports, the biggest shock didn't come from Brennan's physical problems. It came from his personality.
"You could tell he wasn't himself when I first saw him," Fischer said. "He was very quiet, docile. His emotions, his spirit was different."
It took almost a month for Brennan's "magnetic" persona to return, but one day it just happened. The positive attitude, coupled with intense daily training, allowed him to be almost 100 percent by the summer.
Brennan's long journey back culminated on June 3, 2011, when he signed with the United Football League's Hartford Colonials. He was "fired up" to play the sport again on a professional level, especially for his coach Jerry Glanville, the defensive coordinator at Hawaii during Brennan's time there.
Two months later, however, at the start of training camp, the team ceased operations due to financial problems.
"I thought I was on a team and this was my shot back to the NFL," Brennan said. "Now I'm sitting there in late August with no job and nothing to do. It was one of the toughest falls of my life."
In his final meeting with Taman, Brennan had only one request: "Can you just send me the tape?"
He understood the biggest reason for his release was a lack of playbook knowledge. At the same time, his body was finally cooperating and his throws were sharp. This could be confirmed with footage taken in Saskatchewan by the team during training camp.
"I was really, really proud physically of the player that I was out there," Brennan said. "Once we get the tape, I'm going to sit down with my agents and would love to see what they say. If they say, 'You can't stop. You have to keep going,' I'm going to keep going."
Brennan could have called it quits after the accident. Many would have. He received little interest prior to the crash and would have virtually no shot at making the NFL afterward.
But he continued training because, he said, "I was hoping football would give me a chance to feel normal again.
"Basically what keeps drawing me back is I don't want to regret saying five or 10 years from now, 'I should have given it another couple of years, I should have given it one more run.'"
Whether that next opportunity comes remains to be seen. It's now been more than two weeks since Brennan put in the request for his tape, and he's still waiting. Without film to show potential suitors, chances of finding a new team are slim.
Nothing about Brennan's path to this point has been predictable. It doesn't look like it's about to start now.