- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Indianapolis linebacker Gary Brackett might be the NFL’s poster boy for overcoming adversity.

Brackett was raised in a rough neighborhood in Glassboro, N.J. Always undersized, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Brackett walked on at Rutgers. With his money for school almost gone and his Vietnam veteran father quite ill, Brackett was on the verge of dropping out when he was put on scholarship before his junior year. He started the next two seasons and made 212 tackles but still wasn’t chosen in the 2003 NFL Draft.

“Being undersized, coming from a school like [then-downtrodden] Rutgers, I’ve never been on top,” Brackett said. “But that walk-on mentality has been able to keep me afloat.”

Brackett made the Colts as a special-teamer, but that’s when his troubles really began. That October, his father, Granville, succumbed to his long-standing heart ailment. Within four months, his mother, Sandra, died after suffering a stroke following a hysterectomy. Less than a year after that, his brother Greg passed away from leukemia. Brackett had donated bone marrow in hopes of saving his brother, who was just 25.

“Obviously I had to deal with a lot of adversity,” Brackett said as he prepared to start at middle linebacker for the Colts in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday against Chicago. “Football has always been my escape. Your whole life you dream of situations like this where you can be in front of a crowd and have the potential of being a world champ.”

If the Colts achieve that goal, the 26-year-old Brackett will have played a key role. Brackett, who led the team with 127 tackles in 2005, his first year as a starter, was second this year with 120. Elected captain, Brackett has 15 tackles in the playoffs and recovered a fumble that set up a field goal in the divisional round victory over Baltimore for the resurgent Indianapolis defense.

“Gary has been through a lot,” Colts linebacker Rob Morris said. “Nothing fazes him. He’s smaller than the ideal, but he’s quick and he’s technically sound.”

And Brackett has become an inspiration as he continually tells his story.

“I get letters at our complex from people telling me what they’ve been through,” Brackett said. “Some of them are way worse than what I’ve been through, like their whole family was killed in a fire. If my story can give them hope, that says a lot.”

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