Friday, November 7, 2014

ADvantage Friday Feature: For Brett Elliott, Linfield was more than just football.

Brett Elliott, currently coaching at Mississippi State, left a lasting legacy at Linfield.
Before he even committed to Linfield, alum Brett Elliott formed a close relationship with one of his future teammates.

“I had known him a little from high school and was one of the first people to talk to him about coming to Linfield,” said Brandon Hazenberg, current coach and member of the 2004 national championship team.

“I heard rumor that Brett Elliott was looking to transfer from Utah. I walked right in to a business class and found a girl I knew had gone to high school with him and said ‘give me Brett Elliott’s number, right now.’”

Hazenberg called him that day.

Elliot began his career at the University of Utah; earning a starting spot over Heisman finalist and future NFL quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Alex Smith.

After breaking his wrist playing against Texas A&M, Elliott transferred to Linfield, majoring in Communication (He said to send a shout out to his former professor, Dr. Thompson).

“I loved my time at Utah,” said Elliott. “But I wanted to be able to play.”

You could say he played, all right. Along with being an All-American, Elliott won both the Gagliardi Trophy and the Melberger Award, accolades recognizing student-athletes on and off the field.

“I knew he’d be able to help the team,” said Hazenberg. “He was exactly what we needed and would be able to step in right away.”

Elliott and Hazenberg lived together off campus as well as having classes together, which helped their football relationship.

“On the field we were the same person,” said Hazenberg. “Our competitiveness and the way we watched film. We could always connect, we were never on different pages.”

This connection helped secure Linfield’s national championship in 2004, with a perfect record of 13-0.

“It was unbelievable,” said Elliott. “It was the reason I came to Linfield; to have a chance to win a national title in a way you don’t get at the D1 level. The mentality is more fun rather than football being a job and that’s a huge part.”

“It was expected,” said Hazenberg. “It was a culmination of everything we worked to achieve, all of our goals as a team. It was incredibly rewarding.”

During the 2004 season, Elliott surpassed four NCAA Division III records: Most total yards in a season, most passing-yards in a season, most touchdown passes in a season and most touchdowns in a season; and Hazenberg earned all-conference honors at three positions: wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.

The following season, the team tried to complete a difficult feat and win back-to-back national titles. Unfortunately, they lost 41-44 to Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Losing is a part of sports; every athlete knows that. However, that knowledge still doesn’t amend the frustrations and anguish.

Last week, Linfield lost in a shocking upset (28-31) to Willamette.

“I don’t know what to say about that yet,” said Hazenberg. “We’re remembering the influence of Coach and our glasses being half full. We take the positives to reinvigorate the program. It reminded us we’re not invincible and that we need to get back to what we do.”

“Aaron Boehme said it best, they need to remember that their goals are still their goals,” said Elliott. “A national championship with a record of 13-1 is still a natty.”

Both Elliott and Hazenberg began coaching at Linfield after their final season. Elliott eventually went on to coach at Mississippi State University, which is currently ranked number one in the nation.

“Coming here, there is so much more man-power,” said Elliott. “So many people and much more resources to do more.

“But that’s also a drawback because you lose that intimacy and love of the game. It becomes a job and it’s easy to lose the student part in student-athlete. We do our best to encourage it but it’s not like Linfield.”

While playing in Atlanta, Elliott stopped in to see his former quarterback coach, Dan Mullen, who is now the head coach at Mississippi State before ultimately, accepting a position. Several other coaches on the MSU staff followed Mullen from Utah also.

“We call it Utah South,” joked Elliott. “There’s so much familiarity.

The same sense of familiarity went for Hazenberg who is now an assistant coach and helps oversee the secondary at Linfield.

“I knew right away I wanted to coach,” said Hazenberg. “When it was a blowout and the starters would go hang in the back and BS, I was right in the coaches box. When it was 3-and-8, I was learning what to look for.”

Learning the football aspect is one thing, but learning how to work with people is another. Hazenberg expressed that what the coaches at Linfield do isn’t developing football specific talent; it’s more about helping develop people.

“That’s what we were off the field: friends,” said Hazenberg. “Brett and I will be friends for the rest of our lives and that relationship formed at Linfield.”

“I’m a firm believer that people need to travel and live somewhere else, be uncomfortable,” said Elliott. “Go play, have fun, enjoy it. I chased my dream, maybe for too long, but I wouldn’t trade anything. I’d like to end up back, coaching at Linfield.”

-Sara Miller

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