Junior Brignac testing the waters

Take a look back to the Washington recruiting class of 1996. There were some pretty impressive looking athletes in that class, including Corey Dillon, Maurice Shaw, Jeremiah Pharms and the late, great Curtis Williams. You would be hard pressed to find Junior Brignac in that group, but he was there, before disappearing from sight donning a ballcap instead of a helmet as he walked away from the lure of Washington football. So what exactly does Brignac have to do with the Dawgs in 2002?

"Back in '96, the decision for me to sign with Washington was more for my family," the 6-3.5, 205-pound athlete from Reseda, California told Dawgman.com yesterday. "Back then, I wasn't as much into getting my degree, but now I'm making the decision for me. I didn't take my education as seriously before but now I know I need that piece of paper. I can have the best of both worlds. I can go back to playing football and get my degree."

But how is that possible? Well, Junior hasn't used even an hour of his eligibility yet. Like Chris Weinke, Akili Smith, Josh Booty and others before him, Brignac started out playing professional baseball out of high school, only to return to college football later in their careers. At 24, Junior isn't a junior anymore, so it begs the question...


It's a question that can be answered, but not without some background. Junior originally signed with the Huskies out of Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda in February of 1996, but later that spring was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Braves as an outfielder.

"I started in the Gulf Coast League and worked my way through the organization, but very slowly," Brignac said. "I hit all the stops - low rookie, high rookie, low-A, mid-A, high-A and then AA ball. It took me three years before before I even got to the point where I felt comfortable playing baseball every day."

Just after he had reached AA ball, things started to go south for Junior. "I was in AA ball last year and really struggled, especially the last half of the season," he said. "I told myself I would quit when I didn't love it anymore, and I was not having a lot of fun out there."

He was eventually released by the Braves on September 5th, 2001. "I still thought I would continue to play baseball, and two weeks after I was released I was picked up by the Angels," Junior said. "But then I dislocated my finger sliding into second base and was released again because I was injured."

While baseball started to slowly drift off into the distance, the pigskin started to come back to the fore. "I started hanging around with my best friend from high school," Brignac said. "He played college ball at Eastern Michigan. We did some passing leagues. I did that for a month and kind of surprised myself a little bit. Everyone was telling me, 'Man, you still have it! You need to go back to college and play,' and I just thought, 'I'm too old to do that!' I'm 24 now, but I started thinking about it more and more and so I decided to check out my options."

A former Husky signee coming back to Montlake? It doesn't sound as far-fetched as it might have seemed only two or three weeks ago. "U-Dub was the first school I called," Brignac said. "The first person I talked to up there was Claudine (Kimm). I told her how I had signed with Washington back in '96 and was looking to come back and possibly play again. She told me that the coaches would get back to me. At that point, I just thought it was going to end there. I wasn't sure if they were serious. Cal called me and offered me a scholarship to play. Then, Coach (Chuck) Heater called me and even then I didn't think it was going to be all that serious, but they kept calling me. Then I knew it could happen.

"I just talked to Coach Neuheisel for the first time today. We really didn't talk too much about specifics, but they told me that they know what a great athlete I am and how they want me to come up and take a trip to check things out. I'm expecting my itinerary today and I should be leaving to go up to Seattle tomorrow."

The Golden Bears are the other school that has given some serious consideration toward bringing Brignac aboard. "I've already taken a trip to Cal and I went to their stadium and imagined what it would be like full and what it would be like to run out of that tunnel," he said. "I can still remember what it was like to come out of the tunnel on my visit to Washington when I was in high school."

When Junior visited the Bears, he wasn't sure if the new coaching staff at Washington would be as receptive to him as the old one had been. "I told them (the Cal coaches) that I pretty much would be coming, but that was because I really didn't know if the Washington coaches were going to take me seriously and call back," Brignac said. "It's changed now. When I go to U-Dub on my visit now, and they are talking about all the right things then that should be it for me. They are number one on my list right now."

For those recruitniks that actually followed Brignac's recruitment 6 years ago, the events that are happening now are nothing short of some serious deja-vu. "Well, I gave a verbal commitment to Washington on my trip in '96, and when I took my Cal trip it was nothing like U-Dub," he said. "I went back home and told my Mother that I was going to Washington. That's what I have to think about now. Washington is a perennial powerhouse and Cal just isn't."

Money will not be an issue for Brignac. He'll go where the love is. "When I signed with the Braves out of high school, there was $60,000 set aside strictly for education, so I'll use that if I need to," he said. "I can even pay for my education if I have to, but I would like to be able to earn a scholarship. I want to come in this fall and and play this year. That's my plan."

Junior gives himself an '80-85 percent' chance he'll be on Washington's opening day roster. "I would love to play offense," he said. "I just like catching the ball and scoring too much."

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