Now that Brandon had made a decision, all that was left was informing the right people.
He called the Texas Longhorn Recruiting coordinator Randy Rodgers but there was no answer. He called again and again and there was no answer. It was getting rather late in the evening and Rodgers should have been answering the phone. He tried one more time and still no answer.
If Texas wasn’t going to bother answer the phone, Brandon started rethinking his decision. He started thinking about Texas Tech instead. He picked up the phone and dialed Rick Dykes and let it ring once before he hung up. Then, he thought he might give Texas just one more shot. This was during the years before the cell phone and I have no idea why the recruiting coordinator at the University of Texas did not have an answering machine turned on. It would have been bad to miss out on commitment from a top player due to being away from the phone.
He called again and Randy Rodgers actually answered the phone that time. He had been in the shower but was excited to hear from Brandon and he was excited even more to hear that Brandon wanted to commit to Texas. But, he said that he couldn’t take his commitment and that he would have to run it by the coaches. Head coach John Mackovic called Brandon in a few minutes and he was excited also to hear the news.
The Brandon Nava family had been on pins and needles waiting for Brandon to make a decision. They were all waiting around to see who he would pick and they would all be fans of that particular school. If he had picked the Red Raiders, they would all be a Red Raider family. If he had picked Michigan, they would all have been a Michigan family. The same was true for the Aggies, if he had picked them.
As he told his family that he was going to be a Longhorn, they were all excited and each individual member of the family pulled him aside at some point and told him they were glad he picked Texas because they had always been Longhorn fans.
Brandon’s father stayed out of the recruiting process. That’s somewhat rare these days as so many moms and dads want to pick the school for their kids. But, Brandon’s dad let Brandon pick where he wanted to go and he was supportive of his son no matter what.
Tradition and history were a big part of why Brandon picked Texas.
Two games stood out for Brandon from the year before when he was still in high school, which is why media exposure is so very important in recruiting. The Texas- Oklahoma game in which freshman QB James Brown led the Horns and Defensive Tackle Stony Clark’s goal line stand won the game, was an important game to Brandon. Also, the Sun Bowl game featuring Texas vs North Carolina. Texas beat North Carolina 35-31 in what would be the most exciting bowl game of that season
Who’d have known at the time that the North Carolina coach would be so important to Brandon’s future.
Those 2 games would be a huge influence on Brandon in deciding to be a Horn. Which is not surprising, since Adrian Peterson was a big Texas fan until the Sooners blew out Texas in Dallas and Peterson was influenced to head North of the Red River and join the Sooners.
If you talked to a 100 different recruits you would probably hear 100 different reasons why they went to a certain school.
Texas A&M coach, RC Slocum flew in on a private jet to meet with Brandon and his father. An important issue for Brandon in recruiting was that with the school that he chose to attend, he wanted to come in and play early and contribute. He asked Coach Slocum straight up what the coach felt about freshmen playing. Brandon was a LB and the Aggies were recruiting him as such. They were really good defensively back in those days. Coach Slocum was very honest about everything. He told Brandon that they didn’t get to where they are now by playing freshmen. Brandon knew right then and there that the Aggies were not going to be the school he picked.
Dan Rocco recruited Brandon for Texas and he is now the head football coach at Richmond University and doing really well.
Brandon signed with Texas and showed up in August of 1995 for his freshman season.
Brandon is pretty much in agreement with most guys you will talk to about playing major college football. The biggest differences between high school football and college football is the time involved, the number of players at your position compared to what you knew in high school, plus the size and the speed of the other players.
Texas was running a 3-4 defense when Brandon was there. They brought in 4 LBs in Brandon’s recruiting class, Dusty Renfro, Anthony Hicks, Matt Jones and Brandon. He walked into a room that was holding a meeting for the team linebackers and including walk-ons there were over 20 guys in the room. It was kind of intimidating for a freshman coming into a major college football program.
Brandon was tall and fast in high school. Nothing had change with that, he was still big, tall and fast. But, suddenly, everyone was big, tall and fast. He went from being the #1 guy to the #22 guy, and that was a major shock.
It is a huge time commitment when you get to college. In high school, you go to school and then practice and that’s pretty much it.
In college, you go to the weight room from 6 to 8 in the morning and then you go to class. From there, you go get taped up or go to the training room and sit in the whirlpool. You might watch film before practicing for 3 hours and then shower and get treatment again. Then it was off to study hall and then back for film study for hours and hours till maybe midnight. In order to be good, you have to know the tendencies of other teams and players. So, that meant film study and lots of it.
Then, you get up the next day and do it all again. The time commitment was a complete shock for Brandon coming out of high school and for players all over the country. I’m sure any college player you talked to would tell you the same.
The reason players get in so much trouble is that school ends and they suddenly have all this free time in their hands because during the season there is no free time at all.
The second shocker was the effort. In high school you kind of got by on your ability. In college your coaches required and demanded total and absolute effort out of you. That meant not only in work outs, but in film study and in every area. He probably only gave 70% in high school, and that was not good enough for college football.
Another shocker, and maybe the biggest of all, was the speed of everyone. The offensive linemen are nearly as fast as you are and can knock the crud out of you when they caught up with you. They were like refrigerators with arms. They can be 6-3 to 6-6 and up to 300 pounds and even more and can run with the smaller guys.
Play books were huge. You had to know every aspect of the game.
An athlete had to take their core classes so they can graduate but football play books and terminology was like taking another 3 or 4 hour class. There was not enough time in the day to do all that was required.
It probably took Brandon Nava a year after he stopped playing football to finally catch his breath.
College football coaches are not only coaches, but they are like the CEO of a large business or company. People always say that you get an education for free but you pay for it with your own sweat equity. A player goes from high school with maybe a few thousand in the stands to running out with 100,000 screaming people and there is really nothing like it on earth. The people in the stands have had hard weeks and the players are playing for themselves but also for all the people watching.
Brandon Nava was recently talking to an older man and the guy was telling him his sad story. Season tickets had been in their family for 50 years and they were losing them. It was hard for the family and very depressing. They were having to sell the tickets due to hard economic times. There is a whole lot more to it than just the scoreboard, but there is a huge tradition to be upheld at the University of Texas.
Brandon Nava was part of the John Mackovic program at Texas. Mackovic’s team tied for first in the SWC in 1994, they won the SWC in 1995 and then they won the first Big 12 title in 1996. They lost 8 guys to the NFL in 1997 and then they lost a lot of starters to injury.
The 1997 team fell apart and they went 4-7. The players and everyone could see the writing on the wall in the last weeks and then they lost to the Aggies in College Station. Brandon went home to see his family after Thanksgiving game and he saw on ESPN that John Mackovic had been fired. John Mackovic didn’t even get to speak to the team that he had recruited or even give them an exit speech.
With the huge salaries that coaches are getting now, Brandon gets why changes are necessary but when a coach goes into your living room he is asking for a commitment to this school and to the staff and to everything about the program. When a coach is in transition it is a tough situation for guys like Brandon Nava.
With John Mackovic when he was there they were building a foundation and suddenly it was all gone. Brandon was an outside LB with aspirations to play in the NFL. That was his life long dream, to play LB in the NFL.
Then, another coach comes and everything you have built and every foundation you have built and all of the trust and relationship is just suddenly all gone. As a player, you have a new coach and they don’t know you and they have different aspirations and expectations and different requirements. When a new coach comes in everything becomes harder. They just assume you are soft and have bad work out ethics, which totally reminds of what people are hearing now about the same program after Mack Brown is gone.
This was a perfect storm for Brandon. He was excited to have Mack but soon after he got there during spring football Brandon was asked to move from LB to DE. Brandon had played LB from 8 or 9 years old up until he was 22 so he had to make some adjustments.
Then, he discovered he had a heart problem right in the middle of the coaching change.
This was the first off season under Mack Brown and his new strength and conditioning coach, Jeff Mad Dog Madden. It was grueling and come hell or high water Mad Dog was going to whip the team into shape. Brandon was one of the faster LBs and suddenly he couldn’t keep up in workouts. He couldn’t keep up with his running group and couldn’t even keep up with biggest linemen.
He missed 8 or 10 workouts due to a condition he didn’t understand. They finally figured out that they needed to go get him checked out and they sent him to a cardiologist and found out what was going on.
Doctors found he had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.
He had surgery about 3 weeks before 2 a days his junior year. Nava went from starting as a sophomore and playing on every special team to a back up Defensive End and not playing hardly much at all. Brandon Nava played 11 total plays his junior year. Basically, he had to sit on the bench the entire year.
Then came the questions from family and friends. Was he not trying hard enough? What was the deal? Why aren’t you playing anymore?
They had corrected his heart but he still was not playing any. Going into his senior year they asked him to move to Defensive Tackle. At Defensive Tackle, the Longhorns had Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton and they both played for years in the NFL and both of which have Hall of Fame potential. Those two were the starters.
Mack Brown was very upfront and he told Brandon he needed to gain some weight.
Mack and his staff had also added some more talent to the DT position.
Cole Pittman was an incredible talent, but very young. He was ahead of Brandon on the depth chart, also. Cole Pittman was just coming into his own and about to make a name for himself at Defensive Tackle when he was tragically lost in an automobile accident a short time later.
That is for another blog here, but the loss of Cole Pittman was devastating on so many levels. Not only did a family lose their beloved son, but Texas lost an outstanding citizen and inspirational leader and a team favorite. It also cost Texas a really good defensive player and then eventually would cost Texas a starting Defensive End in Cole’s younger brother, Chase. It was just devastating.
There was also a Defensive Tackle from Lufkin in the mix, Miguel McKay. Cole Pittman and Mckay were being groomed to take over for Hampton and Rogers the following season.
I asked Brandon what the differences were between the two different coaching staffs, Mackovic’s and Brown’s.
The difference between the two staffs was that John Mackovic was an NFL guy and ran his program like an NFL program and made them wear a suit and tie and Mack Brown was more of a people person. Mack played better defense and was better on special teams. Mackovic was an offensive genius.
Gullickson was Brandon’s strength coach for 3 years. Strength coaches are very important in the day to day life of a college football player and they spend a lot of time with the players. Strength coaches wear a lot of hats. They are like a big brother, a disciplinarian, and many other important roles in shaping and forming a young football player not only on the field but in day to day life as well.
In the 4th quarter some teams will run out of gas and the teams that have the good conditioning are the ones doing the work during the off season. Strength coaches take that personally. Rock Gullickson is with the St Louis Rams now and he’s been all over the NFL. Madden is one of the best today and one that kind of started a lot of things. There are many different strength and conditioning styles but at the end of day they are just there to motivate and get the best out of you and ask everything out of you. Once you get to know them then you will do anything for them. Pat Moorer is the new guy for coach Charlie Strong.
When asked what he knew or how he felt about the new coaching staff he was honest in letting me know that he hasn’t been around the new staff.
The only thing Brandon has heard is that Charlie Strong has two passions in his life, football and family. He got here and was behind the 8 ball immediately and hit the ground running with recruiting and then went through Spring Ball. He’s always had really good defenses and good teams. Strong seems to know what he is doing. But, Big 12 is different than what Strong is used to, and most people don’t realize that half time Texas was tied with Baylor 3-3 at the half. As bad as it has been lately on the 40 Acres, it’s not that far off. Brandon did not say as much, but it feels like he thinks the 2014 edition of the Texas Longhorns should be pretty good.
I am not a fan of the Longhorn Network and asked how Brandon felt about things.
Longhorn Network when it came out he thought it had the potential to be really good or really bad. He has never had it or even seen it, and he could see all the games before the Longhorn Network. He doesn’t see much coverage on ESPN of the longhorns. He feels it has limited the coverage of the Horns. He feels like it has been kind of minimized a little bit. If you have it you can see some good stuff. Longhorn Network has not benefited the university other than financially. It’s a work in progress.
In topics they are discussing on ESPN, then ESPN leaves it up to the Longhorn Network now and the average guy just doesn’t see the Longhorn brand, anymore. You just don’t see the horns covered much anymore, and the Aggies have filled the void.
College and NFL football fans have high expectations and want to win it all every year. When a team falls short for whatever reason, the fans often want change. It is a what have you done for us lately mentality.
Change can be good. Sometimes change can bring more of the same and sometimes things can even get worse on the football field.
But what we fans don’t see or don’t get sometimes is the people that can be hurt behind the scenes sometimes. Jobs are lost, people are replaced and sometimes people that aren’t deserving come through battered and torn.
Brandon Nava is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet or run across on this planet. He is a good guy in every possible way. Brandon Nava never said one negative word about the new coaching staff when I talked with him at length, and never said one bad word about the school for replacing his coach. I have talked to Brandon quite a few times and I have never heard one negative word coming out of his mouth about anyone.
Any negative comments about this situation I am discussing in this post come from me. As a football fan, I knew all about Mack Brown when Texas hired him from North Carolina. I knew he was an outstanding recruiter and a pretty decent coach. I was excited for him and for the school and for the state of Texas in general that such a guy would come in and maybe take Texas to a national title or two.
He did win one and lost out on another. What I never really ever considered before is what happens to the majority of the guys really involved. Ricky Williams was a junior at Texas at the time. Nothing bad is going to happen to a franchise player like Ricky Williams. Williams won the Heisman Trophy in Mack Brown’s first year at Texas and things worked out really well for him other than some poor judgement by Ricky.
Guys like Brandon Nava were a different story. Nava was a LB. He wanted to be a LB. The new staff moved him to Defensive End and then later to Defensive Tackle knowing fully well that he was not going to play there and had no chance to play there other than to add depth to the roster.
Best for the team? Yes, but was it good for Brandon Nava?
Not so much, but he gave his all and he never complained.
Much thanks go out to Brandon Nava for taking the time out of his busy life to talk to me. Again, as I said above, Brandon is never going to complain and anything negative written in this article comes from the writer and not from Brandon Nava.