SAN DIEGO –
Out of football for a year, Brinkley thought his NFL opportunity may have passed by. After all, he did not get drafted, and the Chargers held a boat full of backs: LaDainian Tomlinson. Darren Sproles. Michael Bennett. Mike Tolbert. Gartrell Johnson.
Brinkley wondered where he would fit. He figured himself a long shot even for a practice squad spot or a few preseason carries to put himself on film for other NFL teams. Then he worried his NFL career may be over before it started.
Yet the Chargers retained him until he resumed football activities with a bullet lodged inches from his heart, one of three emptied into his body during a fateful summer evening.
Three years later, Brinkley represented the team as its 2011 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, which he received during a Mary 8 ceremony at Martin’s West in Baltimore. Each NFL team selects one recipient through an in-house vote. The award goes to a player who embodies sportsmanship and courage.
“It was a great moment,” Brinkley said of getting the award. “From where I started, not knowing if I would be able to play football again, to right now, coming out here and competing, trying to earn a role out there on the field – there were times I looked and I wasn’t on the depth chart at all.”
His is a feel-good story of a kid from a hard-scrabble background overcoming hardship and odds. One of the bigger events in his life took place when his sister’s boyfriend mistook him for someone else and shot him three times while Brinkley waited in a car outside a medical center.
A bullet still is lodged in his chest, too close to his heart to be removed. The Chargers kept the undrafted free agent on reserve, then watched as Brinkley, a running back, earned a practice squad spot in 2010 and played in 13 games the last two seasons.
For that, Brinkley’s teammates and coaches voted him as the Chargers’ 2011 Ed Block Courage Award recipient.
“It was a great feeling to know my teammates, coaches and everybody voted for me,” Brinkley said.
Now he hopes to become more than a courageous survivor.
Brinkley ran 30 times for 101 yards and a touchdown last season, proving adept as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
“What really gets me is the undrafted part. That drives me,” Brinkley said. “Just having the urge of wanting to get out there and play, seeing my teammates go to war, there would be a lot (of emotion) inside me, so when I got out there, I would want to just go. It’s a great feeling.”
With Tolbert going to Carolina in free agency, Brinkley is in the mix for more playing time behind Mathews, along with seventh-round pick
“I’m going to go hard every day and whatever happens, that’s what happens,” Brinkley said. “Those guys are going to push me and I’m definitely going to push them.”
In addition to the shooting, Brinkley faced the death of his grandmother in August, right before the season.
“She was the most special person in my life,” Brinkley said.
A believer that everything happens for a reason, Brinkley tries to find meaning in the tragedies and hardships he’s endured. He doesn’t turn away from the memories, instead using them as fuel to provide for his young son.
“I always just wanted to be one of the best. I haven’t met that point yet, and I’m going to keep going,” Brinkley said. “I told my grandmom I was going to accomplish these goals, and I’m not stopping. I’m not quitting no matter what.“Right now I have a son, so I have a lot more motivation. I look at him and I don’t want him to have the same type of life as me. I want him to be able to go to school for free and live a nice life. And I think that I have the ability if I can continue to come out here and compete to make that way for my son.”