New arrival Colt Brennan is trying to become UH's starting quarterback and shed his tarnished image at the same time.

Brennan gets
back up

A lapse in judgement helped bring
the quarterback to Hawaii

Colt Brennan understands pressure to perform on a football field.

It was his companion every weekend in the fall of his senior season at powerhouse Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

"There were big expectations," said Brennan, between workouts Friday at the University of Hawaii athletic complex. "It was about survival. It was scary, and any time you lose a game there, it's a big game. We played De La Salle, Mission Viejo and Edison, and they all went undefeated."

That's life for the starting quarterback at a big-time high school program. You get the attention, good and bad.

And at UH, you don't even have to be No. 1 on the depth chart to share the glare. If you have the potential to play for the Warriors, you are a public figure.

But all that is nothing compared to the other pressure with which Brennan is learning to deal. It's the kind brought about by one serious lapse in judgment. The kind that comes when you make a bad choice in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, when you can't even remember what you did, but have a feeling it was bad.

BRENNAN ARRIVED in Hawaii three weeks ago with more baggage than the standard suitcase and carry-on. He is trying to simultaneously become UH's starting quarterback while making everyone forget about why he is here and not at Colorado. He is trying to shed the image of a convicted criminal.

Brennan hopes to beat out his competition and lead a rebuilding team while also reconstructing his reputation as a good person. He's out to prove he has the ability to lead Hawaii's offense, and, more importantly, the character to deserve the opportunity.

That would not be at issue -- and he wouldn't be here, anyway -- if the night of Jan. 28, 2004, had never happened.

Brennan plead guilty of burglary and trespassing for his actions that evening. What sounds on the surface like a case of harassment -- entering a co-ed's room uninvited and not leaving -- is much more if you believe the victim's side of the story. Brennan says he was intoxicated and doesn't remember what happened.

"I don't think I touched the girl," Brennan said Friday. "The only thing I know is that night I acted inappropriately and didn't leave when I should have."

Details from a campus police report -- or mis-report, according to Brennan and his attorney -- imply much more than "inappropriate" behavior, but even the court found the details or lack of them confusing.

A guilty verdict for unlawful sexual contact was vacated by the court because of shaky evidence. Brennan served seven days in jail and is on four years' probation. He does not have to register as a sex offender and the two remaining convictions might be expunged in the future. But right now, there's no erasing the fact that he plead guilty to invading the privacy of a female student.

Brennan, his family, and attorney would have preferred a complete re-trial to clear him of all charges.

"But that would have been lengthy, two years," Brennan said.

His father, Terry Brennan, said the atmosphere in Colorado at the time may have led to the outcome.

"No question. It was a pretty hot subject, with Kobe Bryant's case in Colorado and all the things that were going on at the university. It took center stage for a while," the father said in a telephone interview from Irvine, Calif., yesterday.

At the time, CU was flooded with other accusations of sex crimes and revelations of wild recruiting parties involving Colorado football players, and Brennan was almost immediately kicked off the team.

Terry Brennan stops short of saying his son was railroaded, but does not necessarily think he got fair treatment.

"Yes, he had been drinking," he said. "But it's interesting that nothing was said to him the night of the so-called incident. Nobody came knocking down his door. Nothing was done that night or the day after. It was 24 hours later when someone told him there was a campus police report. He contacted the police and they told him to come down to the office and give them his side of it."

Brennan, who was expected to contend for starting quarterback at CU last fall, ended up enrolling at Saddleback Community College. He had a successful season in 2004, leading to walk-on invitations at UH and Syracuse, and a scholarship offer from San Jose State.

Colt Brennan says UH's other starting quarterback candidates have made him feel right at home.

DURING HIS trial, conviction and sentencing, Saddleback stood by him, providing letters to the court in support of Brennan's character from coaches ... and more importantly, teachers and female students.

"They were huge for me. Around the third or fourth game they had to make a decision after I was in court," Brennan said. "They said, 'This kid's doing good here as a person.' They could've cut me loose. They were getting a lot of heat, all kinds of pressure in the media. But (the school administration) met with my teachers and other people who knew me. They made a decision and they stood by me."

It is the kind of decision for which Hawaii coach June Jones is known. He is willing to take a chance on a prospect who doesn't have a perfect past if he is confident -- after getting to know the player and his family -- that the mishap is an aberration.

Star linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, now a captain on the St. Louis Rams, is the prime example. UH was the only school not to withdraw its scholarship offer when Tinoisamoa was incarcerated for his part in a fight at a community fair while in high school. After a bumpy start academically, Tinoisamoa found his way and flourished at UH, especially on the field.

"That was a big point when they were recruiting me," said Brennan, who made an official visit to UH last fall. "They told me about Pisa and how this could be the right place for a second chance."

Brennan said he has encountered no negativity in Hawaii, just people who want to know his side of the story after reading about him on the Internet. They want to know about the guy who might be the Warriors' starting quarterback.

"Some people I meet don't know (about the case), but I think the majority do," he said. "Some ask me, I tell them the situation and they totally sympathize."

Of course, not everyone will feel sorry for Brennan, or believe he belongs on the UH football team, or even on campus.

ADRIANA RAMELLI is the director of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center affiliated with Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

"The bottom line is he was convicted. A crime was committed. It begs the question, 'Why does the university want to have this person as a role model on the football team?' Now he's part of the campus environment. Is he not a risk? I guess the university is willing to take on the responsibility of having him on campus," Ramelli said.

"You've got to be careful when you reduce it to a mistake," she added. "If someone breaks into my car, is that a mistake? This was a crime, and granted, I think the philosophy to help someone learn from that problem ... that can be great. But someone being drunk, that's what we hear often with sex crimes. Alcohol is often part of it. When someone has that behavior in their past, the university has to pay attention. The question should be back at the university."

UH spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said potential students are not asked about criminal history.

"We don't ask anything like that on the application form. Unless they volunteer the information, we would not know. It's not part of the application process," she said.

COLT BRENNAN hardly seemed like a menace to society as he chatted amiably last week about how he already loves Hawaii because of the accepting nature of the people -- including his competitors at quarterback.

It's no secret that Brennan and second-year freshman Tyler Graunke are favored to emerge as the quarterbacks who will play this fall, ahead of experienced veterans. Brennan said he was apprehensive about that.

"So far the other quarterbacks are great," he said. "It's surprising to me. They're so awesome, honest, great guys. They teach and explain. There's absolutely no hostility."

Although he has been officially accepted as a UH student, Brennan is not enrolled in summer school, so he has a lot of time to work out. He lifts and runs in the morning, then watches tape. After lunch, he watches more tape before unofficial passing drills with his future teammates.

While some of the players might go out for a beer after workouts, that is not an option for Brennan. Use of alcohol or drugs would be in violation of his probation.

"It is hard, because at my age it's a natural thing to want to have a drink or at least hang out, but I have to avoid those situations where I might get tempted," he said. "I know it's a cliché, but that's what guys in college do. But they (the legal system) still have all the say, and I'll do whatever they want me to do."

His girlfriend, Dominique Geisendorff, came from California to visit him last week. They met at Saddleback, where she was a cheerleader.

"I knew all about his situation," she said. "I didn't go into it with a preset mind. I got to know him and formed my own opinions. He's a great guy, and everyone deserves a second chance."

Terry Brennan said he never had discipline problems with his son.

"He was always great. Outgoing and friendly, but respectful. We never had trouble with him in the past, so this was certainly out of character," he said.

TWO FORMER Mater Dei quarterbacks will be at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 3 when Hawaii and USC open their seasons.

There was no reason to think there would be any until just a couple of months ago.

Brennan said he is surprised his friend and former high school teammate Matt Leinart decided to remain at USC for his senior season, instead of entering the NFL Draft after winning the Heisman Trophy. When they spoke recently, Leinart said he might regret that choice.

"He told me if he'd known more about the changes that were going to happen, Coach (Norm) Chow and the defensive coaches leaving, too, that might have made it different," Brennan said. "But at the same time, Matt Leinart loves SC. Even when he was fifth-string and not getting any love, he loved it."

Brennan rode the bench behind Leinart at Mater Dei before Leinart graduated a year before him.

"It was frustrating," Brennan said. "I didn't get to play, and everyone wants to be the one out there on Friday night getting the glory. It was instilled in me that I had an important job on the team, but still ... It was pretty neat seeing him progress."

Brennan is 6-foot-3 and around 200 pounds. He was 6-1 and 170 as a high school senior and was not heavily recruited. He went to a prep school in Massachusetts before walking on at Colorado.

His dream as a kid growing up in Southern California was to play for one of the big Los Angeles colleges, or at least some other Pac-10 school. Now, after criss-crossing the country, and surviving a tumultuous trip through the legal system, Brennan is close to getting his chance.

The possibility of starting that journey with Leinart as the opposing quarterback only proves how crazy life can be.

"He's on top of the world. I'm coming from the bottom up," Brennan said.

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