Brennan, Johnson share more than skill
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By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Quarterback Colt Brennan of Hawai'i and running back Ian Johnson of Boise State appear to be polar Heisman Trophy candidates.
Johnson is attired in blue-collared attitude. Brennan's style fits comfortably in a T-shirt.
Johnson speaks in a measured rhythm; Brennan's rat-a-tat speech pattern would be a suitable soundtrack for one of his scrambles.
Yet, both — who have had only one extended conversation with each other — share a bond only they can understand.
Both know that fatigue has little to do with a good night's sleep and everything to do with the tireless responsibility of serving as the faces of the Western Athletic Conference.
Both are the reason a record number of reporters are attending the WAC Football Preview in San Jose. Two players each from UH, Boise State and Louisiana Tech were made available to the media for an hour yesterday. But as many as 10 reporters at a time gathered around Brennan or Johnson.
"Ian and I are going through the same experiences," Brennan said of the expectations of serving as team — and WAC — ambassadors. "We can understand each other."
Johnson said their duties extend beyond interviews.
"It's like we're out here everyday, watching those who are watching us." Johnson said. "We've been given a great gift. The worst thing we can do is ruin it by anything said or done in the heat of any moment."
When Brennan opted to return to UH for his senior season, it opened the way to serve as team spokesman — a role divided among several Warriors last season.
"I told him all of the media exposure would get him ready at his next stop, when he goes to the National Football League," UH coach June Jones said. "It will be like this every day."
Jones' advice to Brennan was this: "Turn everything into a positive thing."
The interview setup called for each player to sit at his own table. Brennan, wearing his black UH jersey, did not carry any notes. Instead, he tried to make eye contact with reporters as he answered questions about his Heisman Trophy DVD, being named the WAC's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, his criticism of the athletic department's facilities, his decision to return to UH, and his 2004 conviction for trespassing.
Using the full hour of interview time, Brennan said:
Ivan Maisel, the college football writer for www.ESPN.com, traveled to the Bay Area specifically to meet with Brennan and Johnson. Maisel praised Brennan's candor.
"It's refreshing to see a young guy like that be as forthright in talking about his past," Maisel said. "He's clearly mature about it. A lot of times, in our business, the elephant is in the room and everybody talks around it. He comes straight at it. There's a lesson to be learned, for a lot of people, by the way he handles it."
Brennan said: "It was cool. It was good to address things and let people know where things stand. Hopefully, everyone got a good understanding of me, about Hawai'i, and what we're trying to do this year."
Ten feet away, Johnson often turned, watching Brennan navigate through interviews.
"He's a great guy," Johnson said of Brennan. "Anytime anyone asks about him, I tell them nothing but good stuff, because it's the truth. ... He's come from a tough situation. Also, he's had a whole lot of adversity that he's overcome. I'm proud to say he's a member of the WAC."
Brennan drew widespread attention for delaying his entry into the NFL. Johnson, too, is putting other interests ahead of his pro football aspirations.
At the end of this season, Johnson, who is a 20-year-old junior, is eligible to apply for the 2008 draft. He said his decision will be based on what "is best for me and my family."
"My goal for the rest of my life is to be a great husband," said Johnson, who is getting married this weekend. "If football was to get in the way of that, then football would have to go. ... My mindset is I'm playing two more years (for Boise State), I'm getting my degree, I'm going to graduate. After that, we'll entertain thoughts (about a pro career)."
Johnson, who had a breakout season in 2006, said his childhood dreams did not include becoming a pro athlete.
"My dream was to be a great husband, to have the white picket fence, to be stable," he said. "My thing is I want stability."
If chasing an NFL job means moving around — or leaving behind — his wife and future children, Johnson said, "that's not for me. If that's my option, I'm choosing 'nay.' If it's, 'Hey, you're going to get $27 million next year,' I'm sorry, nobody leaves $27 million on the table, unless ..."
He then turned toward Brennan, who sacrificed a fat check by returning to UH.
Then again, Johnson understands Hawai'i's pull. He met his future wife during Boise State's trip in 2005. After the game, he and his friend were walking in Waikiki, singing Rascal Flatts' "Mayberry." Chrissy Popadics overheard Johnson, and a year later he proposed to her after scoring the winning two-point conversion in the Fiesta Bowl. They will spend their honeymoon in Hawai'i, staying over following Boise State's regular-season finale against UH.
As for their future life, Johnson said: "I promise you this, whatever happens, I'll be stable. As of right now, the only offer I have is $650 a month and a scholarship, so I'm taking it."
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com.