He finally broke them early his sophomore year, and he played as a receiving tight end and special teams snapper for the junior varsity squad. His athleticism and feet earned him a mid-season promotion to the varsity squad for the latter part of the 2002 season. He was thrilled with the new sport and when he sat down with the Salpointe football coaches that winter, they engineered a dramatic change in his body. They convinced him to start eating meats and proteins while lifting weights, and from the time he finished his basketball season to the summer, he added 50 solid pounds.
"It looked natural on me and it felt good," he describes of the precipitous weight gain. "I would weigh myself and was just shocked to see that I had added 10 pounds in a week. It really didn't look so dramatically different."
Salpointe head coach Dennis Bene knew that his rapidly growing underclass athlete was destined for something other than snapping and receiving, so he sent Brinker out the spring and summer of 2003 for offensive line instruction. That included the Arizona lineman camp locally in the summer and the Nike Camp held on Stanford's campus in May. That work paid off, as Brinker enjoyed wild success this 9-3 junior season, earning Honorable Mention All-State on the offensive line in just his first ever year at the position.
He played out at offensive tackle opposite First Team All-State senior John Kadous, who was also selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Though Kadous has been an established name and performer in Arizona football, while Brinker is still learning the ropes of the sport, it is the younger OT who is believed to have the highest upside. Brinker is at least a comparable athlete, but has better feet.
"He's further along at this point than Kadous was as a junior," Bene proclaims. "Last year was his first full year as a football player, so his best football is without a doubt ahead of him."
"Ian really has a mean streak to him," the Salpoint coach continues. "He's really just a physical player."
Having this year to play with Kadous was a big help for Brinker, though. The senior tackle was a role model in so many dimensions - technique, training and attitude.
"I've come a long way," Brinker beams. "John helped me see what to do. I really feel like the playoffs this year is when I really matured as a football player. Pass blocking has been the biggest thing for me to learn. The footwork is hard, but my experience in basketball has really helped. By the end, I got real comfortable in my pass blocking; now I need to improve my drive blocking. I can get lower and better learn how to use my legs."
Today he tips the scales at 278 pounds and is hitting the weights harder than ever. Though he hurt his shoulder and is limited in some of his lifts, he benches 280, squats 420 and has a 300-pound clean.
Though still very raw and just emerging onto the Arizona high school football scene, Brinker's star is a fast-rising one. He is already being discussed as one of the top 10 players in the state in this 2005 class and possibly the #1 OL prospect. Brinker says that he is hearing a lot already from UCLA, Stanford, Northwestern, Colorado, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State.
His athletic credentials are promising, but so too are his academic numbers. He currently holds a 3.8 GPA at Salpointe Catholic and has scored a 1290 on the SAT.
"I'll retake that in March - my goal is a 1350," he says of the SAT. "I consider myself a pretty bright kid, and I take all kinds of honors courses."
Though a new talent like this would typically have the local schools on the leading edge of his recruitment, he proclaims a pair of out-of-state suitors to be his top two.
"I definitely like Stanford the most," Brinker proclaims. "Their atmosphere and academics - I've always admired. And when I went to the Nike Camp there, I've never been to a more beautiful place. That's why I want to go to that place so bad."
"UCLA is second on my list right now," he continues. "They've sent me letters for a while, and they also have good academics and good football. Arizona is third. They're local and a place I've been comfortable with for a while."
In fact, Brinker took an unofficial visit with the Wildcats this week.
"It was just an introduction thing to the program, the coaches, and the facilities there," Brinker recounts. "No offers or anything."
"The staff that [Mike] Stoops has brought in seems really good," the prized Tucson tackle continues. "Stoops wasn't able to make it, but I met practically every other coach. The line coaches said they like what they saw on film, and they want to get to know me in the next few months. They're saying they'll come to some spring practices and watch."
Brinker's parents were both in tow, and the educationally oriented family had some questions beyond football to ask.
"My parents mostly asked how they would help with my studies and what not, wanting to know about tutors and stuff like that," the junior OL tells. "The coaches said they have mandatory study table times and offer tutors for pretty much every subject. If our grades are slipping, first they will make us run and then notify our parents."