FANCY PASSING NO PASSING FANCY

When Colt Brennan criticized Hawaii’s behind-the-times football facilities back in May, the words seemed harsh and unfair to the university that welcomed him at a time when other schools pretended he didn’t exist.

Just the opposite was true.

Brennan made those statements out of devotion to a place where he felt the heartfelt aloha of strangers who didn’t need a full explanation of what put him on the Islands.

Hawaii, the school, gave him a chance. Hawaii, the state, accepted him from the start.

"When I came out to Hawaii, I had a clean slate," Brennan said. "They don’t judge people (ahead of time). They judge you by your character.

"I’ve fallen in love with Hawaii and the people and the way of life."

Brennan wants to see the school succeed long after he leaves to become an NFL quarterback.

 

This is the school that opened its athletic department doors to a convicted felon, someone who was charged, but not convicted, as a sex offender.

Since moving to Honolulu, Brennan has by most accounts been a model citizen. He regularly speaks at a juvenile detention center, and he visits more schools and youth centers than a politician during an election campaign.

And, of course, Brennan has been a model quarterback.

He is off to a blazing start this season. In the opener against Northern Colorado, he completed 34 of 40 passes for 416 yards and six touchdowns — in the first half. Last Saturday at Louisiana Tech, Brennan was 43-for-61 for 548 yards and four touchdowns.

Even Arena Football League quarterbacks would be envious of these numbers so far this season: a 76.2 percent completion rate, 964 yards passing and 10 touchdowns.

Brennan completed 72.6 percent of his passes last season for 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns, breaking or tying 18 national, 17 Western Athletic Conference and 41 school records. Only 19 touchdown passes from eclipsing the record 121 thrown by former Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer, Brennan should shatter that mark this season.

UNLV, which hosts the Warriors at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, knows too well how quickly Brennan and his game-breaking wide receivers can strike. Brennan completed 24 of 35 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s meeting, a 42-13 Hawaii victory.

After wrapping up his junior season, Brennan declared for the NFL Draft but quickly withdrew his name. The NFL scouting service projected him in the second round, but that usually is a conservative judgment. Former UNLV cornerback Eric Wright was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round but was taken in the second round of this year’s draft by the Cleveland Browns.

Brennan, a Heisman Trophy candidate, figures to be solidifying his status as a first-round pick. He had a short window to make a career-affecting decision in January and simply wasn’t ready to leave Hawaii.

"I think it said a lot about him, that he wasn’t just loyal to the school, but he was loyal to his team," Hawaii coach June Jones said.

"He had one year in high school (as the starter) and at prep school and at Colorado and at junior college. He had moved and had so many changes in his life, he felt comfortable here after two years in a row and liked that feeling."

Brennan played his high school ball at Southern California power Mater Dei, backing up current Arizona Cardinal Matt Leinart before taking over as a senior. From there, Brennan went to Worcester (Mass.) Academy for a year and then to Colorado.

His life changed forever while in Boulder.

A female student accused Brennan of sexual assault among other charges after he entered her room in January 2004. A jury that September found Brennan guilty of unlawful sexual contact, but the charge later was dismissed by a judge.

Brennan, though, served seven days in jail after being found guilty of burglary and criminal trespassing, both felonies. He also was handed four years of probation.

Brennan has maintained his mistake was bad judgment, not breaking the law.

Colorado, which was engulfed in a controversy about alleged sex parties given for football recruits, didn’t need another piece of bad publicity and dropped Brennan.

He enrolled at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., and word quickly spread that Brennan was awaiting sentencing back in Colorado. Brennan met with Saddleback president Richard McCullough, who listened to the player’s plea to remain in school. Brennan also presented supporting documents.

"I was in junior college and had the trial, and football was all I had," Brennan said. "It was all that got up me up in the morning."

McCullough believed Brennan and kept him in the school and took the heat from the public and media.

The president later told Saddleback coach Mark McElroy dismissing Brennan "would have been the easy decision but not the right decision."

"He made the decision based upon the individual and what was best for the student," McElroy said. "He wasn’t concerned about what was political."

McElroy also knew he had a special player. Whether Brennan stood in the pocket or was on the run, every pass seemed to find a receiver’s hands.

He led Saddleback to the conference title, but that legal matter floated over his head. No Division I-A school would touch him, except Hawaii, which is known for taking chances on players with questionable backgrounds. Even the Warriors told Brennan he first had to walk on.

It seemed the perfect fit. He would play in the run-and-shoot under Jones, a mastermind of the wide-open offense.

"He’s playing for a guy if he could he would throw every down," said McElroy, who talks to Brennan about every two weeks. "Because (Jones) loves the passing game, he’s very good at it. (Brennan’s success) doesn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t surprise me if he starts to do the same thing in the NFL."

Brennan’s arrival could not have gone much better for Hawaii. The Warriors have perhaps the nation’s best and most exciting quarterback who could lead them to a Bowl Championship Series game.

And he has not done a thing to embarrass the school. Brennan has become part of the culture and the team, finding any way to fit in — once braiding his hair as a bond with his receivers and learning enough Samoan to call some audibles in that language.

But he knows the questions never truly go away and gets upset at what he sees as incomplete reporting from time to time. The media coverage is more positive than a couple of years ago, though, and all those touchdown passes probably don’t hurt.

"I think it helps a lot I live in the Islands and I’m isolated from the mainland," Brennan said.

The questions become even more intense next year when NFL scouts and officials begin to dissect every part of Brennan’s life before making a multimillion-dollar investment. He said he welcomes the scrutiny because he knows NFL teams will be thorough, which Brennan said would be all the better for him.

"You talk to some people and they tell you what you want to hear," McElroy said. "That’s not Colt. He’ll tell you the way it is.

"The kid’s got a good heart. It’s not phony."

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