Mr. Brennan, we’re ready for your close-up

PHOTO by Gus Stark

Survive, adapt and advance isn’t the official motto of the Brennans, a family of famed New Orleans restaurateurs who have thrived since the 1940s.

Perhaps it should be.

Even with the Brennan siblings opening competing restaurants through the decades making relationships contentious at times, blood is thicker than gumbo.

Despite oil-related recessions, the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina changing the face of the 16th oldest city in the United States and the current coronavirus pandemic, the Brennans remain at the top of their culinary games in one of most competitive restaurant locales in the world.

The feisty family D.N.A. trickled down to Owen Brennan III, wife Megan and their three sons, the youngest whose immediate challenge is replacing a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from one of the greatest-ever national championship college football teams.

A daunting task for 21-year old Myles Brennan, wouldn’t you say?

But he has survived three years as LSU’s backup, refusing to follow the trend of college QBs transferring when they don’t become starters.

“I’d built relationships with the whole coaching staff,” Myles said. “Clicking restart would not have benefitted me.”

He’s also learned three different offensive systems under two O-coordinators.

Adapting isn’t unusual for somebody who lived two years in a trailer in his backyard after the family home burned down and four years on a yacht anchored in Destin, Fla. when Hurricane Katrina washed away the house that had been rebuilt after the fire.

“It’s (living on a yacht) is one of the best experiences I’ve had,” Myles said.

After concluding his high school career four years ago as the Mississippi’s all-time prep record holder in three offensive categories compiled as a three-year starter for St. Stanislaus, a private Catholic school in Bay St. Louis, it’s finally Myles moment to advance to college QB1.

“You wait your turn, soak in as much knowledge as possible, work to constantly improve and stay ready to play until it’s your time,” said Myles, a redshirt junior who has played behind two LSU QBs who moved on to the NFL.

“Now is my time.”

Adversity is nothing new

Myles has rarely had unruffled, clear sailing throughout his childhood. As his father Owen likes to say, “It seems like our lives have been a perpetual renovation or restoration or something.”

That’s also an appropriate description of Myles football career since he enrolled at LSU just after his high school graduation in May 2017.

As a QB who rarely played under center in high school, he had to do so as a true LSU freshman learning an offense of a freshly hired coordinator who believed a playbook loaded with formation shifts and motion was the way to conquer SEC defenses.

Then as a sophomore in a more traditional LSU offense coordinated by a former Tigers’ starting quarterback, Myles was redshirted when he was edged for the starting QB vacancy by an Ohio State graduate transfer who enrolled three months before the season opener.

Last season after a first-year hotshot passing game coordinator installed concepts that were in Myles wheelhouse, he played in 10 games as again backup to that Ohio State import named Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy after throwing an NCAA record 60 touchdowns for the 15-0 Tigers.

Then this past March 12, after just three spring practices in which Myles impressed LSU coach Ed Orgeron – “He was making the right reads and being a leader,” Orgeron said – NCAA President Mark Emmert announced he was shutting down spring sports because of the fast-spreading coronavirus.

A few days later, LSU said it was closing the campus and switching to online classes until further notice. Myles packed his stuff and headed to Bay St. Louis, his mind whirling during the drive home.

He’d waited three years to become LSU’s starting QB and now this? How was he going to stay in shape? How could he keep his passing arm strong and sharp?

“All those thoughts were going through my mind,” Myles said. “I wanted to get home, sit down with my parents and get a game plan. Within a week of being home, everything started closing in Mississippi.

“That’s when I started getting a little worried. My high school shut down. The gyms with which we had memberships shut down. I’m just sitting there losing resources that would allow me to work out and throw.”

Myles got a break when a St. Stanislaus graduate who was a friend of a Myles friend had a fully equipped home gym. The friend of a friend understood the predicament and gave Myles full access.

“It was very generous of him,” he said. “It gave me peace of mind to work out at a place where it was only me and not a crowd.”

Myles’ parents are former Tulane University athletes who competed in the late 1970s. Owen was an outside linebacker who played for coach Larry Smith and Megan (the former Megan Reilly) was the first female in school history to receive an athletic scholarship as a volleyball and basketball player.

It was Owen and Megan who devised and set up a quarterback-specific obstacle course on family land for Myles to keep football-sharp and for preservation of Owen’s health.

“In the beginning (of the home quarantine), Myles was throwing to me,” Owen said. “But when I heard the ball whistle coming at me, I just got out of the way and told Myles, `I’ll go get it and pick it up when it stops rolling and get it back to you.’”

Imagine Myles’ surprise one day when he was returning from a workout and saw his parents working on their project.

“They had bought nets with targets for me to throw into, bought a bunch of cones and ladders so I can do my footwork,” an appreciative Myles said. “They had pulled three trash cans up on the hill (set at 30, 40 and 50 yards away) for me to loft balls and land them in the cans. They had trees set out as targets like receivers running different routes at different angles. They were out there with the lawn mower on the lowest blade length possible cutting the grass (to football-field length).

“I literally pulled up and started doing it one or two times a day every single day I was home. It was awesome to have access to that, to know I could work and continue to get better every day because I had things that allowed me to do that.”

Myles got in the spirit of old-school workouts by pulling trees across the property and bench pressing a log from a tree he cut down with a chainsaw.

“I got pretty good living off the land,” he said.

He was able to hook up with some of his former high school receivers such as Chase Rogers, the state of Mississippi’s all-time leading high school receiver who will eligible this season at Ole Miss after transferring from Louisiana-Lafayette.

“We made a schedule and stayed with it,” Myles said. “They wanted to catch just as much as I wanted to throw.”

The 2½ months at home in quarantine may have started as a nuisance. But the one thing the Brennans – Owen and Megan and sons Bo (27), Hunter (24) and Myles – have mastered from repeated unwanted and unexpected past experiences is circling the family wagon during a crisis.

“We’ve always been a very positive family, we’ve learned how to overcome the worst of the worst,” Myles said. “So, we were grateful just to be home with each other. It’s the first time in a very long time that we’ve all been home having home cooked meals together.”

Living by the dock of the bay

There’s a $10 bill and a $2 bill in Myles wallet that have been tucked away for almost 15 years now.

“The $2 bill was the first $2 bill my mom gave me after school one day as a keepsake,” he explained. “The $10 bill was probably the first of my own money and I wanted to hold on to it.”

When he was six years old, those bills were in Myles wallet in the family home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina’s 27-foot storm surge. He miraculously found the wallet under five feet of sand where the house had been.

It was back in 1995 when Owen, who has always worked in New Orleans in the hospitality/special event/food and beverage business, and Megan decided to move 60 miles northeast to Bay St. Louis.

Ever since the Brennans temporarily once lived for three weeks with Megan’s sister at a Bay St. Louis beachfront house while their New Orleans-area home was being repaired for the third time in 12 years from flooding, Megan wanted to move to the small Mississippi Gulf Coast town.

As the Brennan boys grew older, the idea of living a simple life away from the non-stop French Quarter debauchery (“Driving 50 miles from New Orleans to Bay St. Louis is like driving back in time 50 years,” Owen said) became more appealing. They made the move.

The Brennans lived so close to the Gulf of Mexico on four acres that Owen said, “you could throw a baseball from our front porch into the Gulf. . .it was a beautiful setting, we thought we’d spend the rest of our lives in that house.”

The house was destroyed by fire in 2003 when a local construction company left a heat gun on a fiberglass ladder and went to lunch. When the crew returned, the house had burned to the ground.

For the next two years, the Brennans lived in a trailer in the backyard while the home was rebuilt to its exact original specs.

The family, especially the boys, often spent more time fishing on the end of their 300-foot pier than in the house, which had a unique history and. . .ahem. . .character.

The original structure of the Brennan home was built in the 1860s and had been a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. The front parlor had been a triage for injured and dying soldiers.

Also, there was an Indian burial ground 100 yards from the beach running through several properties including the Brennans. Every Brennan family member experienced enough weird things in the house to truly believe it was haunted.

“Let’s just say there were more souls living in that dwelling than just me and my family,” Owen said. “There’s numerous, numerous undeniable occurrences.

“Very rarely was it anything belligerent or scary, but you just knew something else was going on. It’s hard to explain unless you went through it. Between the Confederate soldiers and the Indians, our house was very well occupied at different times.”

Eventually, a local pastor placed crucifixes throughout the house, blessed each room and told the spirits the Brennans were good people who meant no harm.

“It was like a peace offering,” Owen said.

When the house was finally rebuilt after the fire, the Brennans lived in it for just three months before Hurricane Katrina erased it on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005. Owen, Megan and the boys had evacuated to Jacksonville, Florida where they had family.

When they were able to temporarily return home to salvage anything, they found one of their cars sitting in a tree blocks away from where their house had been.

The insurance adjuster showed up, saw nothing but five feet of sand flat all the way across the property and declared, “Well, it looks like a total loss to me.”

After a month in Jacksonville, the Brennans moved into a couple of spec houses in Destin owned by Jason Romair, a real estate developer who had worked at one time with Owen in New Orleans.

When the first spec house was sold, the Brennans moved to another until it was sold. They appreciated Romair’s kindness, but they didn’t want to keep moving.

One night at dinner with Romair and his wife, the Brennans mentioned during casual conversation they loved the water so much they felt it would be cheaper buying a yacht as the family residence if they could find a place to dock.

The Romairs immediately drove the Brennans to the end of Vera Cruz Boulevard in Holiday Isle, a three-mile peninsula separating Destin Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. At the end of a cul-de-sac Romair owned, he had built a boat dock with water service, shore power and cable TV hookups because he hoped to one day dock a boat there.

“Jason shows us this and says, `If you guys get a boat, you can tie up at this dock and stay here as long as you want,” Owen said.

“As long as you want” turned out to be the next four years on a 70-foot yacht the Brennans bought in Fort Lauderdale.

“It felt like we were on a vacation, waking up every morning, looking out the window and seeing water,” Myles said. “But I feel that’s what made it as fun as it was.

“Yeah, we went to school and I played football, basketball, baseball and soccer. We had the most normal life possible, but you still had to walk on to the boat and you still had to take a shower looking out a window at the water.”

The real hero who made it all work was Megan. While Owen drove to New Orleans on Mondays where he stayed with his parents and worked through Fridays, Megan held down the home front on the yacht with the boys.

On Friday afternoons when the boys finished the school week, the Brennans took the yacht 50 to 60 miles offshore, fished all day, dropped anchor and Megan cooked the daily catch for dinner. By Sunday night, the boat was back secured at the home dock.

“It was a completely different lifestyle, but it was great because I was with my family experiencing things that we probably wouldn’t have if not for the circumstances dealt to us,” Myles said.

None of the Brennans will ever forget flipping the tragedy of Katrina into a memory of a lifetime.

“To live on a boat with a family of five,” Owen said, “you get very close and do everything together. We look back on those four years as the greatest of our lives.”

Birth of a gunslinger

It was as an 8-year-old playing football for the Destin Dolphins of Panhandle Youth Association when Myles was moved to quarterback from wide receiver after the starting QB got hurt.

“Because of my height, I’d been playing wide receiver,” Myles said. “Then, they put the ball in my hand (as a QB). I fell in love with it, understanding each play, knowing that I had the ball in my hand, and I was in control.”           

The Brennans moved back to Bay St. Louis in 2009 in a new ghost-free house a little farther from shore but still on water next to the Wolf River.

After two years of attending St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Elementary in Pass Christian, Myles began seventh grade football at St. Stanislaus. He initially was a wide receiver because it was the most predominant position he played in Destin.

But one day at practice with some footballs scattered on the field, a coach ordered Myles to “pick those balls and throw them here.”

He zipped the balls with gusto back to the coach who immediately declared, `You’re now a quarterback.”

Most of Myles pre-high school QB development came after he finished his St. Stanislaus junior high practices and watched the end of the varsity practices where brothers Bo and Hunter played quarterback and linebacker respectively.

Myles was about to enter the eighth grade when then-St. Stanislaus varsity offensive coordinator Bill Conides first saw him.

“He was tall and lanky, shaggy blond hair, he looked like the kid from the movie `Bad News Bears’,” Conides said. “And he had a cannon for an arm.”

Two years later when Conides was named head coach in January 2014, Myles began his run as a three-year starting QB. From 2014 to 2016, St. Stanislaus went 34-8, averaged 40.0 points scoring 40 or more points 26 times and lost twice in the Class 4A state championship game to Noxubee County.

Myles became and remains the state of Mississippi’s all-time high school career leader in total offense (16,168 yards), passing yards (15,138) and passing touchdowns (166).

Conides’ offense uptempo spread offense – “A quick passing game and take your shots downfield, a run-and-shoot West Coast style, fastbreak basketball on grass,” he said – fit Myles perfectly.

Because that offense operates at a breathless pace, from play call to snap to instantaneous QB reads and throws, Conides created drills to quicken Myles’ sensory reactions and ultimately make game competition easy.

The first drill was called “Chaos.” Upon taking a snap, Myles had dodgeballs thrown at him from head-to-toe. He had to duck, dodge and dart before firing to one of three stationary receivers.

“I’d take my drop,” Myles said, “and my coach would rapidly fire dodge balls left and right at my head and my feet to confuse me while I still had to make an accurate throw.”

The second drill, which Conides said was for Myles to develop the ability to “being able to close your eyes and operate in a complete space.” He blindfolded Myles and then tossed at him Dasani plastic water bottles partially filled with rocks.

“I wanted Myles to use a different sense to move out of the way,” Conides explained.

By the spring after his junior season in which Myles passed for 5,248 yards and 53 touchdowns, he had college scholarship offers from 15 or more schools. He had one or more offers from each Power 5 Conference, including Kentucky and Vanderbilt of the SEC.

The LSU interest and almost immediate scholarship offer and commitment by Myles on April 23, 2016, seemingly came out of thin air. Then-LSU offensive Cam Cameron messaged him in class that he was on his way to St. Stanislaus to visit him. Three days later, Myles and his parents took an official visit to LSU. As Myles was walking out of then-head coach Les Miles’ office door to conclude the visit, he committed.

When Miles and Cameron were fired in September almost five months to the day after Myles committed to LSU, Myles briefly de-committed after his season ended in November. Following a brief flirtation with Oklahoma State, he re-committed to LSU.

Conides never doubted Myles would re-commit to LSU, just like he believed Myles didn’t seriously consider transferring once Burrow was named starter in 2018 several days before the season opener against Miami.

“Myles comes from an old-school family that believes if you make a commitment, you stick to it,” Conides said. “Also, Myles has great faith. He understood LSU is where he’s supposed to be, and that God has a plan that’s going to work out.”

Locked and loaded

Myles is now completely comfortable and confident, maybe for the first time in his college career.

He’s no longer the skinny 6-4, 185-pound freshman who spent his first two years inhaling several meals a day and drinking insane amounts of protein shakes.

“I’m not stuffing my face as I was before, but I am still eating a lot to maintain my weight because I have a high metabolism,” said Myles, who’s a solid 220 pounds and looks like a major college QB.

After learning new offensive schemes under coordinators Matt Canada (2017), Steve Ensminger (2018) and Ensminger/passing game coordinator Joe Brady (2019), Myles will operate this season in the same system for the second straight year for the first time in his college career.

“I’m so grateful I don’t have to learn a new offense,” he said.

It’s an offense, since spring practice a year ago when Brady injected the New Orleans Saints passing concepts and run/pass option with QBs taking shotgun snaps every play, that was already second-nature to Myles and Burrow.

“When Joe and I talked about it, it was the offense we did in high school, so it brings me a high level of comfort,” Myles said.

Myles has developed a close relationship with Ensminger, who’s just the third former LSU player and quarterback among the Tigers’ 13 offensive coordinators over the last 60 seasons.

“He’s not a just a guy who has studied quarterbacks,” Myles said of Baton Rouge native Ensminger, who started 17 games from 1976 to 1979. “He’s played the position in college and he’s played at LSU, which makes it even better. We connect on a different level. It’s nice having conversations with him because he fully understands how we think because he thought the same way when he played.”

Thanks to Burrow, Myles is the most game experienced LSU backup QB moving into a starting role in recent years.

Last season with Burrow and his accompanying cast of weapons averaging an SEC record 48.4 points and rolling for an NCAA record 8,526 total offense yards, LSU held leads of three TDs or more halfway through the third quarter in seven games.

It meant extended playing time for Myles, who played 30 possessions in 10 games. He entered games three times in the third quarter and seven times in the fourth quarter, playing three or more series in the final period in four games.

And because of LSU’s newfound assertive play-calling, Myles felt for the first time in his Tigers’ career he was more than a QB merely handing off on running plays to keep the game clock ticking.

In his first two years at LSU including his one-game 2018 redshirt season, Myles saw action in 18 possessions in seven games and was just 18 of 30 for 247 passing yards, one TD and two interceptions.

Last year, he directed nine TD drives (including one against Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals) and finished the season completing 24 of 40 passes for 353 yards, one TD and one interception.

“It had been difficult the previous seasons when I just got mop up time trying to kill the clock out, waiting until there were two seconds (on the play clock) before snapping the ball,” Myles said. “And it was run, run, run, run.”

“Last year, I was fortunate to get in games as much as I did and get quality reps whether it was the third or fourth quarter. The aggressiveness (in play-calling) helped because I was able to run our entire offense and not just the same four plays to burn the clock.”

When Burrow was named starter just days before the 2018 season opener, there was an assumption Myles would transfer.

It had been a close, but fair competition.

“One quarterback had 428 reps (in camp), the other had 427,” Orgeron said when he announced his decision. “It was a very close decision, it was back-and-forth all week. Either quarterback could have won out. They received grades each day on the things we wanted our quarterback to do on a daily basis.”

Two other QBs who had battled with Myles in the spring to become the starter – Justin McMillen and Lowell Narcisse – had already transferred to Tulane and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College respectively.

But Myles wasn’t about to cut and run.

“I’d already learned several offenses, so I wasn’t going to pack my stuff to go somewhere else,” he said.

As it turned out, he wouldn’t have been able to contribute to the best LSU team ever and win national championship and SEC title rings.

He also wouldn’t have been able to soak in learning experiences from Burrow, like his detailed preparation and physical toughness.

Something Myles is trying to mimic is Burrow’s passing accuracy while throwing on the run. Last season, Burrow easily had the highest QB percentage of passes completed – 66.4 – among all FBS college football QBs when he was pressured.

“If you go back and watch, he made positive plays almost every time he scrambled out of the pocket,” Myles said. “It’s something I’ve been working on a lot, escaping pressure, keeping my eyes downfield and throwing on the run.”

Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft who recently signed a four-year rookie contract with the Cincinnati Bengals worth almost $36.2 million with a $23.9 million signing bonus, likes Myles chances of being a worthy successor.

“He’s a smart dude, he really can spin it,” Burrow said of Myles in April on former LSU star and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s national podcast. “He’s going to be a really good player. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

Ensminger also gave Myles a public endorsement in May during LSU’s virtual Tiger Athletic Foundation Caravan.

“In the first few practices of spring,” Ensminger said, “everything about him was good. His demeanor at the line of scrimmage, his checks at the line of scrimmage, his presence in the pocket was better.

“I am very confident that Myles is ready to lead this football team. Heck, join the bandwagon. Let’s go.”

Orgeron has repeatedly echoed Ensminger’s sentiments.

“We don’t expect to be the next Joe Burrow,” Orgeron said. “If Myles is that, I can promise ain’t nobody going to be mad at him. But Myles has a great surrounding cast, we’re loaded again on offense. I just need him to be the best Myles Brennan he can be, and I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Callin’ Baton Rouge

Few Tigers were happier to get the green light to return to campus in June to start team conditioning work than Myles.

Even back in January during the days following winning the national championship, when Myles and teammates were invited for a White House visit by President Donald Trump followed almost immediately by an on-campus victory parade and celebration, Myles had one thing in the back of his mind.

“I wanted to know when we could start on football again,” he said.

Back in the football ops center for the last two months, Myles has doubled down on his preparations.

He’s working on passing routes with his expansive group of talented receivers three and four times per week to “understand where the receivers are going to be and when they are going to be there, so we’re covering every inch of what we need,” he said.

Also, Myles is LSU’s first offensive player to use the Tigers’ year-old virtual reality walk-through room. It’s where opposing formations are projected on a 20-foot wall and LSU players can learn adjustments based on formation, personnel and motion.

LSU’s defense had exclusively utilized the room until Myles asked Orgeron one day if the room could also be used for offense. Orgeron immediately made a phone call and software designed for offense was installed.

“Twice a week I go in there,” Myles said, “and go through blitzes and protections. I bring my linemen in there and we’ll make our calls.”

Now that the SEC has finally set a date for the start of a coronavirus-shortened 10-game conference only schedule – Sept. 26 – the countdown is on to his first college start.

Myles could calendar watch but won’t. His greatest lesson since he arrived at LSU has been. . .

“Patience,” he said.

If there’s anybody who believes good things come to those who work diligently and wait faithfully, it’s the Tigers new starting QB.

(A shorter version of this story in the Tiger Rag Magazine preseason football issue which will be available August 20 at the usual outlets)

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