If you ask Lincoln East LB, Brent Gritton to describe the game of football, he's likely to give his explanation in two simple words.
Colorful and perhaps to some, somewhat primitive, but for such a game as football, primitive is often admired more than it's scoffed. It beats the hell out of the everyday cliches of "one day at a time", "just going out there to be the best player I can be" and "I just want to do what I can for the team".
All those certainly apply to the Lincoln standout, but he approaches the game in such a way that you can pardon the cliche, he's here to knock your face into the dirt.
Just ask Brent about his favorite person to hit on the football field during the course of the game. It's not some 6 foot nothing gangly QB that he can intimidate. It's not some equally physically diminished wide receiver that would literally buckle under the force of a direct hit. Nope, Brent isn't messing around with who he likes to hit out there more than any other player on the opposite side of the ball. "I like hitting the fullback." Brent said. "The best is when they run it up the middle and you just go in there balls out and hit him as hard as you can. The running back may get a couple yards there, but that fullback will think twice about blocking you on the next play and you can shut it down."
Dick Butkus once said something fairly similar in trying to describe to a reporter how he tried to make an impact not just physically but mentally as well. Butkus said something of hitting the fullback first, that he didn't mind ignoring the running back on that play, because the fullback wouldn't want to block for him any play after that.
That's what you call leaving an impression, literally and sometimes figuratively as well.
It's nothing special for Gritton though because that's how he's always looked at the game. The son of a former linebacker, being a linebacker himself came easily as far as the mental approach was concerned. As to the physical, that was the easy part. Just go "balls out" and you are there.
When you the fan think of great linebackers or at the very least, impressive defensive players you have seen, certain things come to mind. Aggressiveness, speed, instincts for the ball and a motor that just doesn't quit. A certain determination to let nothing keep them off the field doesn't hurt as well.
As to all those things, many will agree that Gritton's team-leading 143 tackles on the season, 101 of them being solo, the 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles are illustrations of all of those save one. As to that one, that being a refusal to play under any circumstance, Brent has an example that's even more glaring than those gaudy stats could ever be. "I remember in the first half of a game, my shoulder popped out." Brent said. "Walking off the field, it was just dangling because I couldn't lift it up."
"At half-time I asked the trainer if he could do something because it was hurting so much. He pulled on it and I felt it pop back in and that was the worst pain I had ever felt."
At that point the game is over for Gritton. You just dislocated your shoulder, you are in excruciating pain and the very idea of getting hit again anywhere close to that area, well, you can hardly blame anyone for not wanting to endure that.
"The trainer asked if I wanted to go back in the game and it wasn't even a question for me." Gritton stated. "He taped that thing up with so much tape, everyone could see how high my pads were on that side so they knew, but it didn't matter. I wasn't coming out."
"At the end of the game, I could barely pick myself up off the field it hurt so much, but I still would never have come out."
I harkened back to a story, one that Gritton knew. It was of former Nebraska Cornhusker and All-American, Trev Alberts. Going into the last game of the year, a national title game against the Florida State Seminoles, Alberts had a choice. An elbow badly in need of surgery, the risks to doing even more damage were obvious. It could jeopardize his certain NFL career. Without hesitation, Alberts played and despite the narrow loss to the ‘Noles, there was no question in anyone's mind who the most dominant player on either defense was for that contest.
It's speculation to say that Alberts did indeed end a potentially prosperous career in the NFL on that day, but Alberts never once voiced regret over participating and as for Gritton, he's in full agreement with one of the best Husker linebackers ever. "There's no question you play." Brent said of playing in that game even with the chance of possibly ending your future career. "If it's a pre-season game that doesn't matter, that's one thing, but for a game like that with that much riding on the line, you play or you shouldn't be playing at all."
"I think my teammates expect me to play even if I'm not 100 percent and I expect them to play even if they aren't either. You can't let those things stop you, especially in big games like that. That is when you need to be there the most. You play no matter how much it hurts."
There's little that this 6'1" 225 player doesn't possess when it comes to what you want as a college. Add his legit 4.7 speed and you are already starting to wonder at where he can go with his physical potential. You would not be surprised then to know that of the letters he's gotten, some of the elite have shown interest such as Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan, Oklahoma and so on.
That attention is only likely to increase which is why Brent says that even now, he's starting to make decisions as to what his Summer plans will be. "I'm already going to have to make some choices." he said of figuring out where to unofficially visit or camp. "I plan on going to a Nike camp and the Adidas camp here at Nebraska, but want to go to some of the team camps as well.
All of the previously mentioned teams are those he's considering right now as to either visit or camp at in the not so distant future.
Is there a favorite?
You might think so considering where Brent lives, the Huskers looming large on all those native to Nebraska. But, Gritton isn't native to the Husker state, having moved to Nebraska from Kansas when he was in the 7th grade. That means his life hasn't been one of a dyed in the wool follower of the Scarlet and Cream, but Brent said he's still definitely a fan. "You can't really live here and not be a fan." he said. "Everything they have done, they are a great program."
Some of the influence could come not even from Kansas though, but from where his father attended college in Division 1-A. "My dad went to Ohio State." Brent said. "And yeah, he's a big Buckeye fan."
I had to throw out the scenario of who the family would root for if Ohio State ever played Nebraska. "I would probably be the only one rooting for Nebraska." he said. "I don't know. It would be pretty interesting. I know my dad roots for both, but if they played each other, I think he would root for Ohio State."
Needless to say then, there's a big, Big Ten influence in the family, but Brent was eager to quickly dismiss any advantage any one school might have right now. "I am going to make a lot of visits, see a lot of places and experience different things." he said. "I can't tell you who I will be thinking about when the season starts, but there's a lot of great schools to choose from."
When the season does start for Gritton, he'll no doubt be one of the top LB prospects coming out of the Husker state. With such an up-side as Gritton does have, the attention in letters is certain to grow and more than likely end up in offers from across the country. What's he think about that though as he continues his off-season workouts? "I can't think that far ahead." Brent said. "I'm going to enjoy my high school season, because there's a lot of work to do. I'll figure all the rest of that stuff out later."
When you are describing players and what they are capable or how they play the game, reporters, analysts and coaches will offer up a variety of colorful terms and/ or adjectives. "smart, intense, aggressive and even "ballhawk" all come instantly to mind. For Brent though, he'll dismiss the politically correct definitions and take what he considers to be the ultimate description for someone that plays the game he loves so much.
That's good enough for him and no doubt it will be more than enough for everyone else as well.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619