The late Colt Brennan was wiping away tears when he announced his return to the University of Hawaii football program for the 2007 season.
What more could he have wanted in his college career? During his junior season in 2006, the gunslinger passed for 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns, the latter of which was an NCAA record at the time. Up next was likely a pick within the first two rounds of the 2007 NFL Draft and the handsome paycheck that would have come with it.
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“I know the opportunity I’m passing up,” Brennan said at the press conference where he made his announcement. “I know that plenty of people out there will think I’m kind of crazy or whatnot. But my heart lies here in Hawaii. I like the person I’m becoming here in Hawaii and I want to give back to a school that gave back a lot to me and the community.
“If I can come back and make everyone excited, these boys right here can get ready. We’re going to make a run and do some good things next year.”
Brennan made his way to UH as a walk-on sophomore out of Saddleback College, which was preceded by an expulsion from the University of Colorado. As he started to post prolific numbers in coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense after eventually winning the starting job in 2005, Brennan’s name started to gain prominence in the islands, customary of any person named starting quarterback for the University of Hawaii football team.
Already a local celebrity by the time the 2006 season came to an end, Brennan’s stardom reached a new level by the time 2007 rolled around. Big man on campus was a gross understatement, as he became a walking deity.
Brennan’s fame in the islands became so large that he’d have to get driven to and from practice, even though the walk from the football team’s locker room to the practice field would have taken just a handful of minutes. His public profile was a responsibility he did not take lightly on the field or during off-field interactions with fans.
Even as he became the state’s biggest athlete regardless of level, Brennan maintained his approachable demeanor with a consistently warm and inviting smile towards fans, accommodating countless picture and autograph requests at an unprecedented rate.
“I think that was just another example of his heart and how he would put others ahead of himself! No matter how big of a name he got or the attention he garnered, he was always humble and gave of himself when he saw a need! I am thankful for the person he was, and he embodied the Aloha spirit,” former teammate Adam Leonard told KHON2 in a text message on Tuesday.
Brennan put his professional career on hold in pursuit of one last season in a UH uniform. The result was priceless. Although Brennan threw for 20 less touchdowns as a senior, the Warriors went 12-0 in the 2007 regular season under his leadership as he became the school’s first and only Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing behind Darren McFadden and Tim Tebow. Hawaii’s collegiate football hopes and dreams hinged on Brennan’s performances, who became the state’s Hanai son in the process. Brennan embraced Hawaii’s culture just as much as it embraced him, dying his hair to fit the Hawaiian Island chain. He also took Samoan classes in order to communicate better with his offensive lineman.
With Brennan and Jones at the helm, the 2007 Hawaii football team did the impossible, earning a Bowl Championship Series bowl bid after an undefeated regular season. BCS bowl games, which went extinct following the 2013 college football season, were a perch typically reserved for college football’s elite. But in 2007, a pipe dream became reality, made possible by BCS taking on a new meaning in Manoa: Because Colt Stayed.
The 2007 regular season for the Warriors will forever live on in UH football history, led by five one-possession wins and consecutive Aloha Stadium sellouts to seal the 12-0 record.
In a Tuesday morning text message to KHON2, Jones said: “Sad day for all of Hawaii…Colt was the face of Hawaii and UH football for close to 3 years…..he brought so much to all of Hawaii….nobody will ever touch what he accomplished …..his decision to stay in school for his senior year meant so much to his teammates and the fans of Warrior football…it united his teammates and the entire state which led us to our 12-0 season and our Sugar Bowl appearance….RIP Colt.”
People of all ages were inspired to dream big, especially a slew of young athletes who aspired to follow in his footsteps. Brennan’s exploits on the gridiron, though at times inconsistent, galvanized the state.
Hawaii ended up losing to Georgia 41-10 in the 2008 Sugar Bowl in what was the final UH game for both Brennan and Jones, who left to become the next head coach at SMU. Both, however, are still spoken of in reverence in local football circles to this day.
Brennan’s pro stock fell after his Sugar Bowl performance, in which he completed 22 of 38 passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by Washington. Despite a promising preseason display, he never appeared in a regular season NFL game and bounced around in his pro career, signing with the then-Oakland Raiders, Hartford Colonials, Saskatchewan Roughriders and LA Kiss.
Brennan was the passenger of a car crash on the Big Island in 2010, which he later revealed led to a traumatic brain injury.
Over the years, Brennan has struggled with drugs and alcohol, leading to multiple arrests and DUIs. He has openly discussed some of his struggles on his personal Instagram page among other topics, including his affinity for artist Bob Marley. Brennan’s death comes exactly 40 years to the day after Marley’s.
Even as he tried to overcome personal issues, Brennan made himself available to help others in the Hawaii community, volunteering as a coach at schools such as Moanalua, Konawaena and Kahuku, as well as other amateur football teams. All the while, he continued to struggle with football-related injuries from the past and still dealt with the effects of the crash as he got older.
“He walked into my office like an 80-year-old man,” his attorney, Michael Green, told KHON2 program Wake Up 2day on Tuesday morning.
News of Brennan’s death was met with sadness and disbelief to those in the college football community on Tuesday. He was remembered most for his days in a Hawaii uniform, and will never be forgotten in local lore because of it.