Winning games, friends Brigance devoted to team, community

November 04, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Try telling Baltimore Stallion O. J. Brigance how good he is, and you likely will get a smile, a thank-you and a self-deprecating comment.

Brigance, one of the Canadian Football League's most productive players, is talent without pretension, confidence tempered by an easygoing charm. Listen to Brigance, and you learn about a player with lots of priorities, which don't necessarily revolve around football.

Twice in his five-year CFL career, Brigance has been named to All-Star teams. But the Tom Pate Memorial Man-of-the-Year Award, which the league bestowed upon him last spring for his outstanding sportsmanship and contribution to the Baltimore community, brings him special satisfaction.

When he isn't shedding blocks, reading offenses or chasing opposing ball carriers, Brigance -- who just completed yet another regular season without missing a game -- is embracing the town he has made his home since signing with Baltimore last year. He is signing autographs for a group of adoring children after a game, or coordinating team chapel sessions, or speaking to high school kids about the importance of education.

"I'm not on a pedestal. No one in this locker room is. I think it's important to get out and become part of the community where you play," Brigance said.

"I enjoy looking up into the stands and recognizing the people I've met," he said. "I enjoy talking to people, whether it's signing autographs after a game or whatever. If they are that interested in me, the least I can do is be interested in them, find out who they are, what their favorite sports are, where they're coming from."

Brigance, 26, spent much of the last off-season talking with area students, warning against the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the lure of professional sports careers. Brigance practices what he preaches. This off-season, he plans to pursue his graduate business degree while honing his sports broadcasting skills. He has worked for the past two years at a local radio station.

Jim Wilmot is the coordinator of the Sports Science Academy, a magnet program at Kenwood High School that attracts students from all over Baltimore County. The impression Brigance made on Wilmot and a group of 75 students last winter resonates.

"Some people have a certain sparkle in the eye that's positive. He [Brigance] has that," Wilmot said. "He gives you honesty. He doesn't talk down to you, he talks with you. I had kids coming out of their other classes to get a peek at him. He was so eloquent, and he didn't stop signing autographs until the last person left. They were captivated by him."

Said E. J. Narcisse, the Stallions' vice president of business operations: "He [Brigance] is the prototypical football player for the business side, the ideal marketing arm of the team. When you have to send a player out into the community, he's the guy we want first. And he's not just about words. He lives his words."

"When I came here last year, he was the first person to come to me and welcome me on board," defensive end Grant Carter said. "There isn't a more valuable player on this team. You don't want to let him down. He doesn't demand the respect of his teammates. He deserves it."

Brigance, 6 feet, 220 pounds, lets his hustle and hitting do the talking on the field. Since he graduated from Rice and broke in as a middle linebacker with British Columbia in 1991 -- when he finished fourth in the CFL with 112 tackles -- Brigance has adapted to a variety of situations with ease.

In 1993, his third year with the B.C. Lions, he moved to outside linebacker, which required him to refine his pass rushing technique. Brigance was second in the CFL with 20 sacks. Then, he decided to sign with Baltimore for its inaugural season.

Matthews moved Brigance to rush end, which required more adjustments. He rebounded well enough to lead the team in defensive points -- a combination of sacks, tackles, quarterback hurries, caused fumbles, fumble recoveries and pass knockdowns.

This year, Brigance was shifted back to middle linebacker, where he re-learned some of his old techniques. He is second on the team in tackles (59), sacks (seven) and fumble recoveries (three). Among his season highlights, Brigance forced the fumble that clinched Baltimore's 19-12 victory against Edmonton three months ago.

"He's one of the steadiest performers in the front seven [on defense]," Matthews said. "He gives you the same great effort every time he comes to the park."

"I've evolved this year," Brigance said. "I haven't had the big stat games, but I'm happy with the fact I've been consistent and have played hard every week. I like being in the middle of everything. I want people to know they can count on me."

People are spoiled by Brigance's reliability. He has not suffered an injury since a knee ailment forced him to miss a game during his freshman year at Rice. In five CFL seasons, he has yet to miss a game.

"There's no way somebody should play this position for so long without an injury," Brigance said. "I've been so blessed."

NOTE: As of yesterday, 20,300 tickets had been sold for today's playoff game against Winnipeg.

Stallions today

Flayoff opponent: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-11)

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: None/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)


Other CFL playoff games

Today: Hamilton at Calgary, 4 p.m.

Tomorrow: Birmingham at San Antonio, 1 p.m.

B.C. Lions at Edmonton, 4 p.m.

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