Colt Brennan's family, friends and coaches talk about what was lost
Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan speaks on stage during the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York on December 8, 2007. Brennan, a finalist for the Heisman that year, died on May 11 at the age of 37.
We used 2,500 words on Sunday to describe the life and death of Colt Brennan, who grew up in Orange County and became a star quarterback at the University of Hawaii.
He died on May 11 after authorities said he overdosed on fentanyl.
Those closest to Brennan shared more insight into his struggle against addiction and his generosity. Read more highlights from these powerful conversations:
They are trying to help their son
Brennan's parents both said they believe they did everything in their power to help their son, whose battle with substance abuse lasted more than a decade.
"We're pretty comfortable with that," said his father Terry. “This was one of those insistence that Colt just pushed like other kids do. You keep pushing, and once you get to that point, the consequences are. "
Also from Terry: “We knew he was struggling and his activities showed that he was struggling. Everything we tried just blew us up. "
An ongoing struggle
Brennan's behavior - fueled by his substance abuse - often alienated others, especially those closest to him.
"He would burn down bridges with friends and coaches," said Terry. "You would become an enemy, so to speak, in his head."
The attacks were often carried out via social media and text messages. Brennan apologized repeatedly and profusely for his actions.
"I know I've written some awful lyrics in the past and I'm sorry," he said in a letter to his family last year. "It's the most embarrassing thing I've done in this fight."
His mother Betsy said, “He loved us. I mean, he was always sorry for the way he acted sometimes. It's so hard It had to be something else, something bigger, the demons that got him. ... He hated it when he got like that. He would say mean things. He couldn't help it. "
Colt Brennan on Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head Mountain in the background on August 16, 2007. (Lucy Pemoni / Getty Images)
Brennan's death was a tragic ending that saddened those around him, but also needed finality.
"He's at peace," said Terry. "He doesn't have to fight the fights anymore."
Betsy added, “I think he is at peace because I think he fought so hard just to be happy. We don't know what he felt, what weight might have been on him all along. You just don't know. "
Former Hawaii assistant coach Rich Miano called it "almost a sense of relief" when Brennan died.
“For those [of] you [who] loved Colt, those who were closest to him, who tried so hard to change him and to influence and help him, this is at least a conclusion. You no longer have to go to bed thinking that this is not going to end well. ...
He's in a better place. He can't be in a worse place. "
Some of the things Brennan will be remembered for include his easy smile and his equally easy manner.
"Colt didn't get nervous about a lot of things," said Bruce Rollinson, his coach at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana. "He was a relaxed boy with a smile, his big old smile."
Rollinson remembered Brennan whizzing through the corridors of Mater Dei, exuding the charm that would shape so much of his life.
"Colt was a friend to everyone," said Rollinson. “I used to kind of laugh to myself. I said, 'Look at him, man.' It was like he was carefree and loved every day of his life. And that's the difficult thing about it now. "
Try to find answers
Colt Brennan sits on the bench with his teammates during a loss to Georgia at the 2008 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)
The Brennans continue to question a lot about their son's fate, including the impact their attempts at hard love had or did not have on him.
"I've had some friends who said, 'How can you do this?" And some said,' You're doing the right thing, "" explained Betsy. “You are right in the middle of it. You try to make the hard love but then you want to help them. I mean it's your son. It's just so difficult as a parent. "
Sign of hope
As far as Brennan's parents know, he was never diagnosed with depression, although they concluded that he was struggling with it too. Sometimes he tried medication but always stopped taking it because he felt himself doing it.
"That pissed us off because he never lasted long enough to work," said Betsy.
When asked if, given all of what their son was dealing with, the Brennans deemed it inevitable that he would die like this, Betsy said that recent events had changed their minds.
Brennan had spent four months at a treatment center in Costa Mesa. His visits to similar places had never lasted more than a few weeks.
"We did it once [do you think this was inevitable]" said Betsy. “But I think over the past few months… because of this newest treatment center, we thought he'd made it around the corner. ... The institution he was in told us he was always positive, always optimistic. They raved about him. "
Brennan's parents named him Colt after his father looked at a map of Southern California and noticed "Colton," a town of about 55,000 in San Bernardino County.
Colton James Brennan was born on August 16, 1983. James was one of Brennan's grandfathers. He died of ALS.
Brennan's Hawaii head coach June Jones said after Brennan's death he received messages from "people in New York, South Carolina, Texas who watched every game [on late-night TV]]. ... He conquered all of Hawaii and half of the mainland. Everyone knows this name. "
Try to stay clean
Betsy on the times when Brennan could stay clean: “What's really crazy is all these years of drinking and whatever he's been doing ... when he was sober his mind was clear. He was funny. He loved telling stories. He could recite lines from films. So I think it had to be something bigger. "
Gifts from Hawaii
Along with the memories, Brennan left two cats for his parents, both of whom he brought from Hawaii: Toa and Kona.
Miano remembered going home after the Rainbow Warriors games, listening to the radio, and marveling at Brennan's interviews.
Not only did Brennan display remarkable "charisma," said Miano, he also praised Hawaii, its coaches and teammates, especially its attacking linemen and receivers.
"A media advisor couldn't have written it better when it comes to saying the right things," said Miano. “It was like, 'Geez, this guy's a media genius. He just gets it. '"
What was lost
Betsy: “We've got a good deal from him in the last four months. He was himself again. We were doing really well. It was the best I had seen him. The sparkle in his eyes was there again. "
Jones: “We were hoping he'd hit rock bottom and save himself before it happened. ... Everyone tried to help him. Other players, teammates, coaches. Unfortunately, the demons were just too many to handle. ... These drugs, these different things, they'll kill you at some point. "
Miano: “We lost a beautiful person. There will never be another Colt Brennan in Hawaiian history. ... People say he was the greatest player ever in Hawaii. How do you argue that? He was."
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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