HONOLULU — Colt Brennan, a star quarterback at the University of Hawaii who finished third in the 2007 Heisman Trophy balloting, died early Tuesday, his father said. He was 37.
Brennan, who had public struggles with alcohol, died at a hospital in California, his father, Terry Brennan, told The Associated Press.
“He just spent one too many times on the dark side of life, and it caught up with him,” Terry Brennan said of his son.
Brennan transferred to Hawaii after stints at Colorado and Saddleback College in California. A certain pro prospect after a record-breaking junior season, he bypassed the NFL draft in order to play his senior year for Hawaii coach June Jones.
Brennan led the Warriors to its finest season ever, going 12-0 in the regular season.
In 2008, Georgia ended Hawaii’s hopes for an unblemished record, defeating the Warriors 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl.
He returned for his senior year, in part, to pay back a school and a coach that gave him a second chance, and he had no regrets.
“Hawaii has inspired me to do a lot of great things,” he told The Associated Press in 2007.
Jones, the former Hawaii coach now with the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL, called it a sad day for the islands.
“Colt was clearly the star of our program and what he did after the 2006 season by staying in school said a lot about him and how he cared much more about Hawaii and his teammates,” he said. “That’s something that doesn’t happen anymore.”
In a statement Tuesday, the university athletics department called the Irvine, California, native “the focal point of one of the greatest eras in Rainbow Warrior football.”
“He was a phenomenal player and provided us some of the greatest sports memories we’ll ever have. But he was more than that,” the statement said. “For all that he accomplished on the football field and the adulation he received for it, he always remained among the people. He never turned down an autograph, he never turned down a picture with someone.”
Brennan was drafted by Washington in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2008, but he never played a regular season game in two seasons.
Life after football seemed difficult for him. His former attorney, Michael Green, told the AP in 2013 that the quarterback felt like he had disappointed people with his fledgling football career. He also said at the time that Brennan was still dealing with emotional and physical pain from a head-on crash on the Big Island on Nov. 19, 2010, on Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kona.
He was arrested last November at his Big Island home after banging on a housemate’s door with a chair. When he entered the room, the 6-foot-3-inch Brennan fell on the roommate, causing both to fall to the floor. Brennan was arrested for disorderly conduct.
It was the second time in four months he had been arrested, In August, he was taken into custody for trespassing at the Kona Seaside Hotel after allegedly causing a disturbance and refusing to leave.
In both incidents, police described Brennan as being heavily intoxicated, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. The charge was later dismissed.
In December 2019, he was arrested on Oahu for driving under the influence, without insurance and leaving the scene of an accident.
Four years before that, he was charged with filing a false report that his vehicle was stolen, the newspaper reported. That case was also later dismissed.
He also pleaded no contest to DUI in 2013 for a traffic stop on Oahu a year earlier.
In 2010, he was a passenger in an SUV that was involved in a head-on crash on the Big Island. He suffered head, rib and collarbone injuries.
A jarring hit that reverberated throughout Aloha Stadium knocked him out and left him with a concussion early in the fourth quarter of a 2007 game against Fresno State.
It wasn’t the first time he had a concussion.
He told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that year that he was 14, in his final year of Pop Warner youth football, when he had a really bad concussion. But that injury didn’t make him want to quit the sport.
Brennan, who used a cane and wore a leg brace, went to California a few months ago for rehab for his injuries, including blood clots in his legs, his father said.
Brennan had been living at an addiction treatment center in Costa Mesa, California, and Terry Brennan said his son also had been a big user of marijuana. Terry Brennan took him to a hospital emergency room on Sunday because his son had been drinking. “I could tell he was not well and needed help,” Terry Brennan said.
But the detox facility was full, so without his family realizing it, Colt Brennan was released. He was unconscious when he was taken back to the hospital, where he later died, his father said.
“They released him out on the street and either he made a call or he got Uber or something,” Terry Brennan said. “And now this is what we’re dealing with.”
He was surrounded by family members when he died.
“His sisters made sure he had the Bob Marley music going by his side,” Terry Brennan said of the reggae his son was fond of from his time in Hawaii. “They had a lei around his chest.”
Hawaii was important to him. “He had all the respect in the world for Hawaii,” his father said. “It was his home.”
His family hopes that toxicology results and an autopsy — including tests on his brain to determine if there was degeneration from repeated head trauma — will give them answers.
Police are also investigating, his father said.
Brennan’s name prominently remains on Hawaii’s all-time records, including accounting for a school record 131 touchdowns from 2005 to 2007. During his stellar Hawaii career, Brennan broke or tied 31 NCAA records.
In 2006, he set a then-school record for 569 yards passing against Arizona State University in a bowl game. He finished his career with 20 games with 400 or more yards and four games with 500 or more yards.
He led the nation in 2006 in several categories, including total offense (422.5), touchdown passes (58), and passing efficiency (185.96).
“I remember the first time I met him, he had that swagger about him, super-confident, didn’t care of what people thought and it really played out on the field,” his former teammate Mike Lafaele said. “What a great leader he was on and off the field.”
Associated Press journalist Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.