Brennan rises from walk-on to record breaker

Hawaii quarterback, Colt Brennan, looks to throw the football during practice, Monday, Aug. 20, in Honolulu. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, RONEN ZILBERMAN


Hawaii quarterback, Colt Brennan, looks to throw the football during practice, Monday, Aug. 20, in Honolulu. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, RONEN ZILBERMAN

By Jaymes Song

HONOLULU – Colt Brennan couldn’t lose at Hawaii.

As a walk-on three years ago, he had a shot at running the Warriors’ pass-heavy offense. That, however, wasn’t his main objective. He was determined to get his life back together.

“If football didn’t work out, I was going to be all right. I was going to find my life in Hawaii and just focus on being happy,” Brennan said. “When I got here, football just took off for me. It’s been a great ride and a surreal feeling.”

Today, Brennan is considered one of the nation’s top college quarterbacks and a Heisman Trophy contender. He’s also the main reason why No. 23 Hawaii is ranked for the first time entering the season, despite losing five players to the NFL draft.

It would have been six Warriors drafted, but Brennan withdrew at the last moment to return for his senior season, and to pay back a program and coach that gave him an opportunity to shine when no one else would.

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    Hawaii coach June Jones, a former NFL quarterback and head coach, hasn’t been shy about praising his star. Jones calls Brennan the best quarterback he’s ever coached, including Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Warren Moon.

    Jones goes further, saying Brennan is the best college football player this year, and last. In 2006, Brennan tied or broke 18 NCAA records in one of the most prolific seasons in college football history. Brennan finished sixth in the Heisman balloting.

    Today, Brennan finds himself in a slightly different position than when he joined Hawaii. This time, he cannot lose.

    With huge expectations, he’ll have to lead the Warriors to a perfect season to earn a shot at the BCS, Heisman and some credibility.

    “Unless I win every football game, the credit is not going to be there. I learned that last year,” said Brennan, who backed up Matt Leinart in high school.

    His staggering statistics included completing 73 percent of his passes for 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns. Yet, the only figure Brennan cares about is three – the number of losses.

    To put last year’s numbers in perspective, Brennan threw and ran for more yards and touchdowns than Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Michigan’s Chad Henne combined, and in fewer attempts.

    “My numbers last year were the best ever in college football. It didn’t get me invited to New York (for the Heisman ceremony). I didn’t win the Davey O’Brien Award,” he said. “The reason was because I lost football games.”

    This year, with a schedule as soft as the ocean breezes in Waikiki, the Warriors could finish the regular season 12-0. The schedule includes two Division I-AA schools and seven home games.

    Receiver Davone Bess, who led Hawaii with 96 catches for 1,220 yards and 15 TDs last year, said playing with such an accurate passer makes his job easy.

    “It takes pressure off us,” he said. “All we have to do is focus on our routes and our reads because we know the ball is going to be there.”

    Bess said Brennan’s returning to Hawaii showed a lot.

    “It showed he cared about the team and it also showed money isn’t everything,” he said. “By him coming back, it made everybody happy and made all of us closer as one.”

    Brennan has spent the past couple of weeks contending with a flurry of media interviews and photo shoots. Despite the success and notoriety, he remains low key, humble and hungry.

    “Nobody’s a big shot on this team. Any time my face starts getting in the paper too much, they do a pretty good job making fun of me, bringing me back and making me humble,” he said.

    In order to accommodate reporters and autograph seekers, Brennan is usually the last one to leave the practice field. He doesn’t acknowledge it, but Brennan is an island icon.

    “What I saw in Hawaii was not only a place I could play football, it was a place I could get away,” Brennan said. “I love football and came out here to play football, but it was life, first.”

    Brennan may be basking in the warmth of the islands, but it’s been a difficult journey.

    His football career was nearly derailed and his life was put in a tailspin at the University of Colorado in 2003, which he calls the “most devastating” time of his life. Former coach Gary Barnett kicked Brennan off the team immediately after a woman accused him of entering her dorm room and fondling her.

    The allegations came at the height of a scandal in which player-hosts were accused of supplying drugs and sex to prospective Colorado recruits. It also followed the Kobe Bryant sex scandal in Eagle County.

    Brennan pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of sexual assault, but convicted of burglary and trespassing, according to court records. Brennan said he passed a polygraph test, which wasn’t admissible in court, and had two eyewitnesses that testified he was invited into the woman’s room.

    He was sentenced to seven days at Boulder County Jail, 60 hours of community service and four years probation.

    While acknowledging poor judgment, Brennan maintains no crime was committed.

    “I had a complete lapse in judgment. I was cocky. I was arrogant. I was a lot of things,” he said. “(But) I definitely did not commit a crime.”