How Colt Brennan helped put Hawaiian football on the map


In 2006, Joel Sebastianelli was a 12-year-old college football fan in the small town of Johnston, Rhode Island.

And he was intrigued by a record-breaking gunslinger who lived 5,068 miles away and rarely played a game that ended before midnight on the east coast.

Sebastianelli and friends loved playing NCAA Football 07 to light the scoreboard with the most exciting team in the sport.

“Someone always wanted to be Hawaii,” he said.

But Sebastianelli went one step further.

In the summer leading up to the 2007 season, Sebastianelli saved his allowance and made extra money by cutting the neighbors’ lawns. As college football season approached, he had one purchase in mind: a subscription to ESPN GamePlan so he could see the Rainbow Warriors in action.

“You didn’t have to be an adult, you didn’t have to be someone who had watched college football all their life,” said Sebastianelli, who attended the University of Florida and now covers Michigan and Ohio for BCSN in Toledo. Ohio. “It was just something like that [great] watch over these Hawaiian teams. They just had something else. “

The difference, of course, was Colt Brennan, the pale blond quarterback with three-quarter delivery and lightning-fast release who seemed born to play in Hawaii coach June Jones’ version of the run ‘n’ shoot offense.

In three seasons as a starter from 2005 to 2007, Brennan broke or tied 31 NCAA records, including career touchdown passes (131) and one-season touchdown passes (58 in 2006). He still holds the NCAA career completion record (70.4%).

The anniversary of Brennan’s death on Tuesday at the age of 37 from an apparent drug overdose made Sebastianelli and others ponder those long, magical Saturday nights that typically bled into early Sunday mornings when Brennan tossed the ball across the field against overmatched WAC defenses .

“Once the 8 o’clock game on ABC was over, it was time for Hawaiian football on the east coast,” said Sebastianelli. “That was the most fun I had in college football.”

What was so remarkable was that many of the people who saw the Rainbow Warriors on television in mainland America had never seen them in person, let alone Hawaii. The viewers’ only connection to the team was the local production of games that were broadcast to their televisions via ESPN GamePlan.

At a time when the internet and cable television were making it almost easy to watch almost every game in the country, Brennan was a Colt hero ahead of his time.

“I still want to be like Colt Brennan,” said McKenzie Milton, Florida state quarterback. “The way he played the game is all you want to emulate. He knew how to move people. He knew how to manipulate the defense. He made the guys around him better. You got that Moxie, the confidence, seen the swag. You can see the lead. You can see all of these things as he played. For me, it’s so rare when you have a player like that. “

During Brennan’s busy 2007 season, Milton grew up as a 10-year-old in Kapolei, Hawaii, about an hour and a half drive from the UH campus. Milton’s parents had season tickets on the 25-yard line at Aloha Stadium, and his family attended every home game while Brennan played there.

“It was electric at Aloha Stadium and whenever they were out it was the whole state that saw the game on TV,” said Milton.

Brennan grew up in California and wasn’t a local, but arguably he did more than anyone to put Hawaiian football on the map. The quarterback he followed, Timmy Chang, set NCAA points in yards passing (17,072), tries (2,436), completions (1,388) and total offense (16,910), among other things. He also set an NCAA record with 80 career interceptions and only completed 57% of his passes.

Brennan wasn’t perfect on the field, but he played with more flair and excitement.

“I’ve never seen or experienced Hawaii like this when everyone was gathering around a group,” said Milton. “I’ve never seen our state this close just because a soccer team won everyone’s hearts and minds, and Colt was the face of it. He wasn’t even a Hawaiian boy. He wasn’t even born and raised there, but he was.” essentially became the face of Hawaii. “

Brennan went to Colorado to replace future Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart for three seasons at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, and was redshirted in 2003.

In January 2004, a student said he went into her dormitory uninvited, exposed himself, and petted her. He was charged with several crimes, including sexual assault. Colorado quickly fired Brennan from the team. Eight months later, a jury found Brennan guilty of second-degree break-in and first-degree stepping. A more severe charge of illegal sexual behavior was overturned in the absence of evidence. Brennan was sentenced to seven days in prison and four years probation.

Brennan had passed a court ordered polygraph test and used those results to gain admission to Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California. He spent a season there and played well, but his conviction and prison sentence advised most schools not to pursue him. Jones told Brennan he could play for the Warriors, but only if he paid his own way first and didn’t cause any trouble. In return, Brennan would carry out Jones’ famous passing misdemeanor.

And Brennan took on the culture and vibe of the place that gave him a second chance than anyone else would.

“It just slowed everything down for me,” Brennan told ESPN in 2006. “They focus on just enjoying things and being happy.”

Brennan started 10 of 12 games for the Rainbow Warriors in 2005 and led the country in all-out offensive and touchdown passes. Hawaii finished 5-7.

The next season, Hawaii went 11-3 and Brennan finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy vote. He broke the NCAA season record for touchdown passes at 58 and tossed the last five in the second half of a 41:24 win over Arizona State at the Hawaii Bowl. He threw for 559 yards at 33-for-42 over in that game.

This season he led the NCAA on the offensive (422.5), overtaking efficiency (185.96), points responsible for (27.7), percentage of completion (72.6%), overtaking yards (5,549 ) and passed yards per game (396.4). That year, he has broken or tied 20 NCAA records, 17 WAC records, and 41 school records.

He wasn’t finished yet. After surprising many people when he returned to Hawaii for the 2007 season, he led the Rainbow Warriors to a regular 12-0 season before losing 41-10 to Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Brennan finished third in the Heisman vote and was a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award.

“Cities [were] Friday, Saturday, whenever they played shut down, [and] The eyes were glued to the televisions just to watch this show, “said Milton.” And it was the greatest show on grass. It was amazing.”

He shaved a picture of the islands into the side of his head. Shortly after arriving in Hawaii, he enrolled in Samoan classes so he could speak the language of many of the locals, including some of his offensive linemen.

Former Guardian of the Rainbow Warriors, Hercules Satele, recalled Brennan barking audibles in Samoan to confuse the defenses. When Brennan yelled “aua le pisa”, Satele and his roommates knew they were “calm” and were watching Brennan’s foot on the snapshot.

“He was only human,” Satele told ESPN. “You can tell as soon as he joins the team. We all hugged him. The whole state of Hawaii saw what we saw and hugged him too. He changed our culture and the whole atmosphere around our team. “

Additionally, Chang and Brennan inspired a future generation of Hawaiian quarterbacks to follow in their footsteps. Over the next twelve years, quarterbacks like Jeremiah Masoli (Oregon and Ole Miss), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Milton (Central Florida and Florida State), and Dillon Gabriel (UCF) would make their mark on the FBS.

“If he hasn’t done what he did, I don’t know if the quarterbacks pipeline is from Hawaii. I really feel that way,” said Milton.

Vinny Passas, a renowned quarterbacks coach in Hawaii who worked with Chang, Mariota, Tagovailoa, and others, agreed.

“I thought it was amazing what he did to inspire the young quarterbacks in Hawaii,” said Passas. “They all wanted to be like him, just like when Timmy was the guy and the hometown hero. He had so much charisma. He was just a folk hero.”

As important as Brennan was to football fans in Hawaii, the islands were just as important to him. After injuries and a car accident derailed his professional football career, he returned to his adopted home.

He reportedly had broken ribs and a broken collarbone in a car accident in Hawaii in November 2010, as well as serious head injuries. Terry Brennan said his son was never the same after the accident.

Brennan has had a number of legal issues over the past several years, including arrests for misconduct, DUI, and trespassing when he was drunk and denied the manager’s request to leave.

“It seemed to affect him just walking from one bad place to another,” Terry Brennan told ESPN. “I don’t know how else to put it. They make decisions and sometimes they are the right decisions and sometimes they are the wrong decisions.”

In his last hours in a hospital room on Tuesday, Brennan’s sisters put a leu around his neck and played Bob Marley songs. Terry Brennan noted that his son died on May 11, the day the Jamaican reggae star and hero died in 1981.

Terry Brennan said his son would be cremated and some of his ashes would be returned to Hawaii.

“Hawaii meant a lot to him,” he said. “It’s a place where he could get a second chance. He was able to pursue his dream of playing football in a competitive arena. He made many friends and built trustworthy and lasting relationships with the people of Hawaii. He loved everything.” He cared a lot about it. “

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.


Melinda Martin