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NFL Legend Brett Brackett Reflect on His Youth Coaches and the Lessons They Taught Him

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

The thing that Brett Brackett remembers most from playing youth football are his coaches.

“I was very fortunate that we had a really well-put-together league, and especially the team I played for," Brackett said. "The coaching staff was full of enthusiastic coaches that had experience. Several played in college. None of them had kids on the team. They did it because they loved it. They were just good men. And that made it fun for us as kids."

Brackett played flag football in fourth and fifth grades, and began playing for the Lawrence (N.J.) Lightning when he was in sixth grade.

"I was a big sports fan anyway and this was my first chance to play tackle football," he said. "I couldn’t wait to sign up for the team. It was awesome."

Brackett didn’t just learn to block and tackle. He learned teamwork and accountability. As he developed as a player  eventually earning a scholarship and a captaincy at Penn State University and playing four years in the NFL — Brackett said those lessons from youth football stuck with him. 

“That’s what the league was about it was the culture they built," he said. "And for sixth, seventh, eight graders, they held you accountable. It was real simple stuff but it’s stuff I carried with me throughout my football career, in college, and in the NFL.

"You didn’t think anything of it then. But everyone faces adversity in life. In football it could be in the fourth quarter of a close game, the game is on the line, and that’s when you rise up. That’s what separates you.

"It stayed in my head in college, when I was going through those last reps after a tough day. This is where I need to step up. Same level of mentality in the NFL. Everyone here has incredible skill level; what separates you is who is going to rise above it.’’

Brackett rifles off the names of his youth coaches. Head coach John Knapp. Fergie Reeves, who went onto coach at Lawrence High School. Larry Kotona, who inspired him with his messages. John Harold, who drove him to and from practice. Terry McEwen, who would go on to win a National Championship at Pitt in 1976. Harold Brown, who was a record-setting quarterback at Lawrence High.

What that group of men taught a young Brackett helped him through his time at Penn State, where he contributed to a BIG 10 title as a wide receiver. He spent his NFL career as a tight end on the fringes of pro rosters — spending time on the offseason and practice squads of four teams before seeing his only regular season playing time in 2014 with the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks. 

Brackett currently serves as a general manager for Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit organization that engages college football players to support rare disease patients. Through his work with the nonprofit and other youth engagements, he shares the lessons of hard work and dedication he learned in youth football. 

"One of the things I bring along when I talk to kids is my Big 10 Championship ring from Penn State," he said. "I'll tell them that I’m not wearing this ring because it’s shiny and cool. What this means to me is the dog days of summer and working with my teammates and all that went into actually earning this.

"It's the same with the memories of playing youth football. When I go back home now, some of my teammates didn’t play even high school football, but we’re always tied together because it was such a community thing."

Photo: AP/Mark Zaleski


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends