By Brandon HENSLEY
John Brinton is being remembered as a man whose intimidating demeanor often belied his passion and caring nature for helping teenagers learn the game of football.
Brinton died Dec. 28 when he collapsed near the assisted care facility where his mother Jane resides, and was not able to be revived. It is thought the cause of death was from a heart attack, but that is still unconfirmed. He was 58.
At 6’5”, Brinton’s presence was large, both figuratively and literally. His sister, Angela Collins, guesses he weighed close to 370 pounds when he died. His deep voice matched his size.
“When you heard him talk you’d be like, ‘Whoa, what was that?’” Collins said. “He was a larger-than-life kind of man.”
Born in Utah, Brinton and his large family – he leaves behind five siblings – also spent time growing up in Hawaii. He played two years of football at Brigham Young University in the mid-1970s as an offensive lineman, a position he would go on to have success coaching with in the foothills.
He was a varsity assistant with Glendale High School under Don Shoemaker in 1990, when the Nitros won 10 games and the Pacific League championship. He also spent time at Burroughs, Burbank, St. Francis and several stints with the junior varsity and varsity teams at Crescenta Valley, and was a JV coach last season for the Falcons.
It didn’t matter where he was. “His passion his whole life was coaching football,” Collins said.
Current Falcons varsity coach Paul Schilling worked with Brinton in the mid-’90s at the JV level, and said Brinton would play the “bad guy” to the players so Schilling could be the “good guy.” Brinton would make the team run 10 sets of 10-yard sprints and meticulously point out errors.
“It’s not hard to do 10-yard sprints,” Schilling said, “but he would say to the players, ‘No, that was a bad stance. It didn’t count. Back to zero.’”
Pretty soon, the guys were running 60 sets of sprints, but that they could appreciate the thoroughness by the end of the season, and also realize he was on their side.
“He was one of those good coaches who could hammer someone and then hug him after,” Schilling said. “The kids wouldn’t think of him as a jerk. They would have a good feeling after because they knew he meant the best for them.”
When the JV players moved on to varsity, it was Brinton who suggested taking those players out to breakfast every Friday morning, the day of the game, to local restaurant Jeremy’s to chat and go over football, or life.
It was that closeness that current Falcons junior Davo Hakobyan appreciated in Brinton. Hakobyan’s first season on varsity was as a sophomore, but as the first game neared he feared he would get lost in the shuffle of the other lineman, which were highly regarded. He was also intimidated by Brinton, who was on the varsity staff that year.
Hakobyan thought hard about telling Schilling to move him down to JV for a better playing opportunity, but one day while weight lifting, Brinton was in a corner and noticed how easily Hakobyan accomplished his heavy sets of power cleans. He told Hakobyan to come over.
What did I do wrong now? Hakobyan thought.
“You power clean that much,” Brinton said, “and you’ll have a starting job on the varsity as a sophomore.”
Brinton nudged the other coaches to start him, and that season Hakobyan was an All-League second team selection, and a first team honoree as a junior last year.
Brinton regularly chose Hakobyan to showcase drills for the team first, and said he reminded Brinton of himself when he was a player.
“I didn’t know he would pick me out of everybody,” Hakobyan said. “I was very lucky.”
“[John] loved being around the kids,” Schilling said. “He really loved the kids.”
Collins said he had a soft spot for that age group, but her brother’s ability to reach young people of any age started long before he was a coach.
Collins said when Brinton and his future wife Rene were dating, they would take her, then only 7 or 8 years old, along with their other sister Lei out for hours on Halloween night, or to get ice cream or go to the movies.
“I always wanted to be with them,” Collins said. “I just always felt taken care of when I was a little girl.”
Brinton had been living without Rene since she passed way in 2004. He leaves behind two children, son Joel and daughter Cody.
Coaches, players, family and friends said goodbye to Brinton last week at a service at Montrose Church. Collins said he was a “simple guy,” and would have been touched by the thoughts given at his service, especially by people like Hakobyan, who said Brinton was always looking out for his players.
“You had to give the guy respect; he knew what he was talking about,” he said. “He knew so much about football, and everybody had great respect for him.”