We’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go. — Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run”
Typically, University of Hawaii football teams don’t go 12-0 in a regular season and make it to the Sugar Bowl.
Statewide, the mania was surreal when that happened in 2007. A special kid named Colt Brennan was the right trigger man for the job under the pass-happy June Jones run-and-shoot system. Defense? Who needs defense when you score with stunning regularity? Honestly, Jones didn’t think that way 100 percent, but there is some truth to it. Outscore. Outscore, Outscore.
That year, I was one of a large team of Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporters and photographers sent to Aloha Stadium for the home games. My assignment, however, was to concentrate on the visiting teams, so while I watched an amazing run of victories by the Rainbow Warriors, my focus was not on Colt Brennan. That was for some others on staff and, if there was any solid advantages that came out of it, it was that I didn’t have to wade through a gigantic throng of reporters trying to get the thoughts of the Heisman Trophy candidate. The people I interviewed after games — including the Washington receiver who let a possible tying touchdown pass go through his hands with three seconds left in the finale that could have spelled doom to that Sugar Bowl bid — were much more easier to get to.
When news of Brennan’s death at age 37 came Tuesday, it hit Hawaii hard. Tons of people tweeted or went to other social media platforms to share their grief and sorrow, including Dara Young, the official scorekeeper extraordinaire from the Aloha Stadium press box who was sure to get some pictures taken with Brennan during his UH career.
Along with the following photo, Young tweeted this Tuesday: “Rest in Love, Colt. Thank you for all the memories.”
In addition, the following video from Rob DeMello at KHON2 is worth watching. In it, big-name quarterbacks from Hawaii — Marcus Mariota, who is pictured with Brennan at the beginning, McKenzie Milton and Tua Tagovailoa — pay tribute to Brennan.
The questions on many people’s minds is how did this happen and why? One of the original reports, by Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (the first one to confirm the death from Colt’s dad, Terry Brennan), Brennan was unconscious and his family was present at a rehab facility to witness Colt’s death. It turns out that later in the day, media outlets across the country updated their stories to read that Brennan had ingested fentanyl in a hotel with friends on Monday, fell unconscious, was admitted to a California hospital and never recovered, dying with his family present on Tuesday. Apparently, Brennan had tried to get into a rehab facility and was not admitted because the place was too full.
At this point, no official cause of death has been given, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. It It’s no secret that Brennan suffered from addiction and mental health problems, and that he has had multiple concussions (and we all know that repeated head injuries have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease).
Colt Brennan ready to unload a pass. (Image credit: Hawaii.edu.)
An Instagram message by Brennan from April 12, which was liked by 6,157 people, perhaps gives us some insight into how he had been feeling:
COLTONJAMES15 — I’ve been through a lot in my life. I was a convicted felon for a crime I never committed, (passed polygraph and all). I captured every dream I had as a child. I was drafted into the league only to have 2 knee and 2 hip surgeries. I reached my 3rd year in the NFL, only to awake from a coma with traumatic brain injury as a passenger in a car accident. I battled drug and alcohol abuse, and eventually developed blood clots years after the car accident. I spent 9 months in the hospital and for the last 2 1/2 years have been trying to learn how to walk again with a broken heart. I found redemption once, I will find it again. They say: “ Some people are just born to fight, and it’s not their born brave or born strong. It’s just that the Universe decided that this one, this one will have the grit and fire, and the steel in their blood. They will be tested this cosmic mettle of theirs. They will face trial after trial, be broken and damaged in countless ways, but this one was born to fight”. #cover #07espnmagazine#redemption #fighter #onelove#brokenheart
The crime Brennan refers to is his conviction and jail time of one week for felony burglary and trespassing before he came to Hawaii. The original allegation was sexual assault.
How he died is one thing, but it’s the WHY that is even more difficult. And why are the deaths of young former football athletes from Hawaii (and probably all across the nation) so common?
On Aug. 25, 2020, here at BedrockSportsHawaii, I reported on the death of former Hilo High and University of Kansas defensive tackle Isi Iolani at age 24. I didn’t know the cause of death then and I do not know it now, but just hearing about his death then (and the ubiquitous “no cause of death given”) made me think about three other young Hawaii football tragedies (Kona Schwenke of Kahuku and Notre Dame, Simione Vehikite of Kapolei and USC, and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim of Hawaii Prep, the University of Washington and the NFL) that were marked by either drugs, concussions or mental health issues.
Those stories of pain and seemingly senseless deaths of young athletes are in this BedrockSportsHawaii story: Isi Holani’s Death at 24 Is Another In A Long String Of Hawaii Football Tragedies.
Also of note in that story (and let it be known once again that we still don’t know how Holani died) are the eery similarity (drugs and/or mental health issues) of the deaths of Schwenke, Vehikite and Teo-Nesheim to the deaths of former Hawaii world surfing champion Andy Irons at age 32 in 2010 and the near-death of former Hawaii world surfing champion Sunny Garcia at age 49, a 2019 incident which has been widely reported as a suicide attempt.
And these tragedies are not limited to college or pro athletes. It has hit the high school level in athletics, too: There Are Better Answers Than Suicide, Pearl City Football Player’s Family And Friends Reflect.
That latter situation, about an anguished Hawaii high school player who took his own life, has happened at other Hawaii schools in recent years, too, according to various public school coaches who asked to remain anonymous.
In the case of Colt Brennan, no matter what the cause of death, there’s already a big hole in the hearts of many.
Note: This story was updated to reflect that Brennan fell unconscious after ingesting fentanyl, a fact that was missing in early reports of Brennan’s death.
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