Colt Brennan remembers dropping in on Matt Leinart one day while they were in high school.
Leinart was a star senior quarterback at mighty Mater Dei High School in Southern California, bound for USC. Brennan, his backup, was bound for many different places, though he didn't have a clue at the time.
``I remember my junior year of high school, me and him just sitting in front of his house, talking about what if one day we can play together,'' Brennan said. ``To see how our lives have kind of panned out - I can't wait to get to the next level just so me and him can be close friends again.''
Three weeks into his senior season, Hawaii's prolific quarterback is closer to the next level - the NFL - than he's ever been. But he's taken a very different route than Leinart.
Leinart arrived at USC as a matinee idol-in-the-making, and his profile only grew as he won the 2004 Heisman Trophy while leading the Trojans to one national title and a share of another. The Arizona Cardinals drafted him 10th overall in 2006.
The 24-year-old Brennan's story can't be summarized in one paragraph. If it could, it would be a very long paragraph - and it still isn't finished.
``He's been through some adversity and I think that made him a better person,'' Leinart said after a Cardinals practice last week. ``It's made him the player and person he is today.''
Brennan came to Phoenix for Leinart's birthday in May, catching some bass on a lake near Leinart's home. They talk frequently by phone.
``I'm proud of the way he's handled himself and I'm proud of the way he's played,'' Leinart said. ``What he's doing has really never been done.''
He could say that again.
After graduating from Mater Dei in 2002, Brennan went on to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts for a little extra schooling.
Then he enrolled at the University of Colorado, where, during his freshman year, he was involved in a drunken incident in a woman's dorm room. Brennan pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of sexual assault, but convicted of burglary and trespassing and sentenced to seven days at Boulder County Jail, 60 hours of community service and four years' probation, which he's still serving.
Brennan was also kicked off the team.
``I told him, 'Things happen, man,' `` Leinart said. ``'You were put in the wrong situation, wrong time. Everyone makes mistakes. Whether you're guilty or not or whether you did anything wrong or not, things happen and you've just got to learn from that.' And that's something that he learned from.''
Brennan enrolled at Saddleback College in Southern California, then found his way to Hawaii.
``I know he went to Hawaii to kind of get away from everything and kind of find peace, and that's exactly what he did,'' Leinart said.
Brennan never did escape his past, but he figured out how to deal with it with help from Hawaii coach June Jones and a Saddleback College journalism professor named Mike Reed.
Brennan's arrival at Saddleback had prompted unflattering stories in the school paper. Brennan lashed out, claiming he had been treated unfairly.
Reed, who described Brennan as a motivated student, tried to explain the downside of being a star athlete.
``I told him, 'You're frustrated about the way they worded it,' `` Reed said. ``'It wasn't exactly right. But this is life. This is part of the maturing process, and you're going to need it if you go into professional sports.'''
Jones gave Brennan similar advice before this season started.
``As I told him when he made the decision to come back, this season will be his best preparation for the National Football League, because even though he's getting a lot of attention, and even though the media is on him all the time, it's going to be 10 times more when he gets to that first Sunday after a game in the National Football League,'' said Jones, a former NFL coach and quarterback.
The lessons apparently hit home.
``The biggest thing was probably humility,'' he told reporters at Western Athletic Conference football media day in July. ``It can't get any worse than that. I think that walking away from that, you can't embarrass me, you can't really humiliate me anymore. I'm just a kid that just wants to play football and enjoy himself, and that's it.''
Brennan threw himself into football with spectacular results.
He tied or broke 11 school records in 2005, his first season, and had an absurdly productive season in 2006, throwing for 5,549 yards and a Division I-A record 58 touchdowns.
With 105 career touchdown passes, Brennan is fifth on the all-time major-college list, and he is on pace to breeze past former Brigham Young star Ty Detmer's career record of 121.
Brennan likely needs video-game numbers to have any shot at the Heisman Trophy. He finished sixth a year ago, behind three players who returned this season - Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden, West Virginia tailback Steve Slaton and Michigan tailback Mike Hart.
Detmer, who won in 1990, was the last Heisman winner to play in a so-called mid-major conference.
Former Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who finished a distant fourth behind Leinart three years ago, had some advice for Brennan as he tries to break the Heisman mold.
``I think the best thing for him would be to focus on team, focus on games,'' said Smith, now with the San Francisco 49ers. ``That's the bottom line. You can throw for a gazillion yards and how many touchdowns, but if your team is not winning, you're not going to go anywhere.''
Brennan helped his team with a star-type performance in a 49-14 rout of UNLV on Saturday night in Las Vegas, after which the Warriors jumped five slots to No. 19 in The Associated Press Top 25.
He ran for three scores and threw for two more - all on a swollen, black-and-blue right ankle. Brennan said he had badly twisted it ``screwing around'' before practice on Friday, and he took a painkilling shot before the game.
``He was committed,'' Jones said. ``He's a tough kid.''
Brennan was on crutches and sat out Tuesday's practice. Jones has said he expected Brennan to play Saturday when Hawaii hosts Charleston Southern.
The message probably wasn't lost on the dozen or so NFL scouts sitting in the Sam Boyd Stadium press box.
Though many observers pegged the 6-foot-3, 201-pound Brennan as NFL-ready (if not a first-round draft pick) a year ago, Brennan decided to come back for his senior year, following the example set by Leinart, who returned to USC even after winning the Heisman as a junior.
``I know he loves Hawaii,'' Leinart said. ``That's why he came back.''
If you doubt Brennan's feelings about Hawaii, check out his haircut. At first glance, he appears to have been a victim of a horrible salon accident. Closer inspection reveals a dark outline of the islands dyed into his bleached-blond crewcut.
It's the sort of goofy gesture that's turned Brennan into a cult figure among Hawaii fans. Many wore his green No. 15 jersey on Saturday night at UNLV, and after the game fans mobbed him for autographs and pictures outside Hawaii's locker room.
Brennan basked in the attention, lingering for almost 30 minutes. A reporter asked what the victory, at the end of a draining 12-day road trip to the mainland, had revealed about the Warriors.
``I think it was a statement,'' Brennan said. ``Perseverance is what matters in football.''
He would know.
AP Sports Writer Jaymes Song contributed to this report.

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