Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Built To Last

As he sits there spilling over his chair in a way expected of a linebacker in the NFL, those at the National Signing Day party sat dumbfounded when they were given a tip from a reliable source.

Jasper Brinkley has not always been this big.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about Jasper is that he’s always been this NFL linebacker prototype. Actually, he was rather skinny as he was coming up through our program,” says John Barnett, Defensive Coordinator at Thomson High School during Brinkley’s tenure there.

Gasp. It’s even surprising to hear it myself, as Jasper and I were teammates at Georgia Military College (GMC), and I just assumed he was always the alpha male he was at that time, especially during the Oklahoma drill. But regardless of his size before then, and now, he actually got there by practicing two words many of us preach to ourselves all too often and never completely sellout to. Hard work. “It’s more of a zone that you go into than anything else,” notes Brinkley. That’s right, no over-the-top nutrition plan or wacky fitness gimmick. Just plain ole hard work. And it was on the practice field with Coach Barnett, and fiery Georgia High School Coaching legend Luther Welch where his drive and attention to detail were instilled.

It would be too easy to just chalk up Jasper’s competitiveness to having an identical twin brother who also played in the NFL (Casper, who is a former member of the Carolina Panthers). Yes, because when he wasn’t too busy taking on someone his own size, he was being pushed by the eventual ’02 AAA State Football Champs on a daily basis. Oh, and then there’s the matter of having a head coach who never missed a practice in 56 consecutive seasons. “The discipline that Coach Welsh had is kind of the same as being in a military school,” says Brinkley. Kind of you say?

Upon finishing their championship reign at Thomson, Jasper and his brother, due to academic issues enrolled at GMC. They found the underlined mission statement at GMC to be reminiscent of Coach Welsh’s: Separate men from boys. Soon Jasper added cadet duties to his daily routine, which amounted to pretty much everything seen in the movies: scrubbing bathrooms with toothbrushes, shining floors until YOU might eat off them, standing at attention for hours on end. Basically anything but getting a good night’s rest. All this to play at one of the premier JUCO’s and compete with better, faster competition.

After a stellar two-year stint at GMC, Jasper headed to play at South Carolina, in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Jasper starred in a conference that has taken the last five National Championship trophies with players whose freakish athleticism alone bring you to call your cable provider to-- budgeted or not-- upgrade to HD. After making the All-SEC team as a senior, Jasper knew he was one step away from making his boyhood dream a reality.

Every time he moved up a level, Jasper had to build his body to take the increased punishment each one doled out. This is seen even in his preparation for the NFL combine. A round-the-clock schedule of speed conditioning, weights and flexibility training that has nothing to do with football, but is monumental in the draft process. And his hard work paid off for him as he was drafted in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft to the Minnesota Vikings as a run-stopping linebacker who could soon replace an aging E.J. Henderson, the starting middle linebacker.

And as high as he’s pushed the bar in just this short amount of time, he expects to keep up with his progress and always stay hungry for more. Even talking with him makes you wanna go out and, I don’t know, do something! “Just compete when you’re out there, no matter what it is you are doing. Compete,”

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