The Love Of A Dad

Life hasn't been an easy road during the last few years of J.C. Brignone's life. He's had to deal with the devastation of his family home due to Hurricane Katrina and this past spring his dad Julio Cesar Brignone, who was only 53-years-old, passed away due to a heart attack. But the 20-year-old is lucky enough to truly understand the phrase "The Love of a Dad" thanks to his late father.

"My dad, who came to the United States not knowing a word of English, owned JC Painting and Home Repairs," said Brignone. "He painted inside of houses. He was a licensed electrician, plumbing, building ... everything you could think of.

"He sent me to a private school (St. Stanislaus) that cost an arm and a leg to go to. He busted his behind every day so that I could have the good things that he never had.

"He would work from 6 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon and then made sure he was at at least 15 minutes of my practice. He tried to be at everything he could - every power-lifting meet, every practice, pre-practice, scrimmages ... everything. And my mom, too."

And J.C. has taken to heart everything his dad taught him.

"He busted his tail for me, now I'm busting my tail to try to come close to the things that he did for me. He worked from dusk to dawn just trying to send me to the best school on the coast (of Mississippi)," said Brignone. "There has not been a day and there will never be a day that I won't stop thanking him for what he did for me, because he did so many things that a lot of people won't even think about doing."

But the value of hard work is not the only thing his dad taught him. He also taught him how to be a man.

"My dad always treated me like a man. He always told me everything that was going on family-wise. We always took care of business together," said Brignone. "He was always there pretty much teaching me how to grow up.

"Then, when (Hurricane) Katrina happen I had to grow up. When I came back home (from Georgia) after I left due to Katrina, I had to live by myself because I couldn't fit in the trailer with my parents. I was 17-years-old at the time and had my own trailer which was 45 minutes away from my parents. And with the way gas was at the time, it was difficult to travel the 45 minutes to see my parents. And it hurt me not being able to see them every day."

A person entered his life about this time that not only helped J.C. overcome the emotional toll of Katrina but the toll the sudden death of his dad would cause him - he started dating a young woman by the name of Blair Strong.

"(Blair) cheered at Bay High and I played at St. Stanislaus ... we were crosstown rivals," said Brignone. "We started dating my freshman year here (at Mississippi State). She was cheering at Pearl River Community College. And every time I went home on breaks I usually hung out with her.

"When she went back to school after Christmas and I went back to school we kept talking and coming into the summer we saw each other every day. We got real close and I could really tell a lot about her because she was there with me for everything. She went through Katrina also, including losing her house. She is just a really awesome person."

They eventually fell in love and he decided she was who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

"My proposal was a total surprise (to Blair) and the only people who knew about it were her mom and my parents," said Brignone. "Coming into the bowl game I had it all planned out. By then, (former MSU teammates) Royce (Blackledge), Jason Husband and everybody kind of knew what I was going to do.

"After the game, we went back to the Peabody (Hotel) and I had them back everybody up and I had (Blair's engagement) ring tied around the Peabody duck. She saw the bow when the duck came toward her. I got on my knees and asked her (to marry me). At first, she was crying, so I wasn't sure. Then I asked her did she want to (get married) and she said yes. We hugged and kissed and everybody was there - my parents and her parents were there. That is one main thing I am so happy about - that my dad was there to see that and knew we were going to get married."

A few months later his dad would pass away due to a massive heart attack. At the time J.C. was on the practice field going through spring practice.

"When Coach Croom came and got me off the field I thought I was in trouble due to the look on his face, but then I saw his lips start quivering and I asked him who it was," said Brignone. "Then he said that he needed to tell me something and that Blair and my friend were here. Then Blair came walking out of the door with one of my good friends.

"The first person who came to my mind was my mom because she was always the one who was sick. So, I thought it was her, that something had happened to her. But Blair walked out and said that my dad had had a heart attack.

"I broke down right there. I couldn't hear it, I didn't want to hear it. I couldn't believe it because that's not something you want to hear. I started walking back out on the field because I didn't want to hear it. I still picture it in my head today. It was like an out of body experience. I can see myself and see my dad.

"Blair drove me home because they wouldn't let me drive. Going home was the longest four hours of my life.

"Then walking in and seeing my mom ... I felt so bad for her because she was there with him when he fell out. She tried and tried to revive him but couldn't do it, so she thought it was her fault. But I knew it wasn't."

That was a very hard time not only in his mother's life, but J.C.'s as well, but he was strong thanks in large part to Blair.

"(Blair) was the main person through everything with my dad passing away," said Brignone. "I picked everything out based on what my dad had told us he wanted, but she was the one who called everybody and arranged everything.

"She has been my backbone through everything - through my first season of actually playing (football for Mississippi State) and everything with my dad. She has been there for everything."

The months have passed since his dad's sudden death and time is starting to heal the emotional wound, but his dad is always in his thoughts.

"Right now, I am good with it because I know my dad is in a better place, a much better place then we are," said Brignone. "But I feel his presence by me all the time. And I talk to him all the time. I know he's always been proud of me and that makes me even stronger because some people don't have that type person in their life.

"My dad was my hero."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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