PRO FOOTBALL

Colts' Brackett earns respect on and off the football field

2010-08-07T21:30:00Z 2010-08-09T23:35:04Z Colts' Brackett earns respect on and off the football fieldBy Chris Nelsen Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
August 07, 2010 9:30 pm  • 

ANDERSON | The Colts' list of recognizable names begins with superstar Peyton Manning. Reggie Wayne, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney and Dallas Clark also have a national following.

Linebacker Gary Brackett? Not so much.

Certainly not the biggest or most feared middle linebacker in the league, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound veteran had an opportunity to leave the team as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Despite a history of not paying big money to linebackers, Indianapolis refused to let the defensive captain walk.

The 30-year-old Brackett, entering his eighth pro season, signed a five-year, $33 million contract with a $12 million signing bonus to remain a Colt, and the team is glad he did.

"Gary is a phenomenal leader, just exceptional in terms of his work habits," coach Jim Caldwell said Friday at training camp at Anderson University.

"He has a thorough understanding of our defense. He's like a quarterback of our defense. He can adjust some things on his own, if need be, but he's also very, very effective making plays for our team."

An undrafted rookie from Rutgers in 2003, Brackett grew into an indispensable component in one of the league's top defenses. He had 43 tackles, three interceptions and no sacks during his first two years in the league, but he broke loose in 2005 with 131 tackles, three interceptions and one sack.

Brackett finished the 2006 season with 123 tackles, including a team-high eight in the Colts' Super Bowl XLI victory over the Bears. Last season, he had 99 tackles -- including 13 in the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans.

"Certainly, Gary is our defensive leader," said Manning, the league's reigning MVP. "Players feed off his energy, his enthusiasm, his commitment and his passion for the game. He's been pivotal to our team success and certainly to our defensive success. We're lucky to have him."

Brackett's luck in the offseason went beyond getting a wealthy contract from the Colts. In July, he was married to Indianapolis native Ragan Kenner. The couple has a young daughter, Gabrielle.

"My wife and I are very happy with how the summer played out," Brackett said. "Obviously, my daughter Gabrielle, she's a joy to us. We're very excited staying here in Indianapolis for another five years."

Much of Brackett's life has been filled with positive memories in recent years, both on and off the football field. However, he suffered through great personal tragedy early in his professional career.

Within a 16-month span beginning in 2003, both his parents and older brother died. His father, Granville, passed away from heart failure, and his mother, Sandra, had a stroke. His brother, Greg, died after a long battle with leukemia, despite receiving a bone-marrow transplant from Gary.

To honor his deceased family members, Gary Brackett has performed countless hours of community service and charity work over the years, earning him the NFL's Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian Award last season.

Brackett created the IMPACT Foundation to benefit children affected by cancer. He also works alongside Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with the Pennies for Patients program.

"I've always honored my parents by living my life according to what they taught me," Brackett said. "I know they would be proud of me and very encouraged by what I've done with my life."

While some athletes create news for the wrong reasons, Brackett's charity work, generous nature, strong religious beliefs and adoring love for his teammates made him invaluable to the Colts organization.

"He sets a great example for all the young guys involved in this profession," Caldwell said. "He does things the right way. His heart's in the right place, he's involved in our community and does a great job with our team."

Putting his personal life aside for the time being, Brackett is focused on leading the Colts to Super Bowl XLV and another championship trophy. The team's defense, which has suffered numerous key injuries in recent years, expects a healthy Freeney and Sanders back in the mix.

"We know teams are going to be gunning for us," he added. "That's how it's been the last few years. We're excited about it and we're up for the challenge."

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