Josh Brent didn't enter the NFL's supplemental draft in 2010 because he had made the most of his three years at the University of Illinois and was ready to turn pro. He did it because a series of off-field and academic problems had exhausted every other option.
"Most definitely, it's a second chance," Brent said at the time to The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill., before being picked by the Dallas Cowboys and eventually making the team.
Brent's second chance, however, is very much in jeopardy after a one-car accident early Saturday in Irving, Texas, that killed his Cowboys and Illinois teammate Jerry Brown and left Brent, who was driving, facing a felony charge for intoxication manslaughter.
If convicted, Brent faces two to 20 years in prison.
For those close to Brent, who tried repeatedly to keep him on the right path, it's the most significant disappointment yet.
"I just talked to Josh's agent a few weeks ago to see how he was doing and really he had settled down and wasn't going out, not living an extravagant life and was just enjoying the NFL," former Illinois coach Ron Zook told USA TODAY Sports. "He was mentoring Jerry, even though Jerry's older, and trying to help him make it in the league."
Though much of the focus in the accident's aftermath has been on Brent's 2009 DUI charge, for which he served 30 days in jail, it was just one roadblock in a long, often winding path to the NFL. The only child of a single mother, Brent landed in Bloomington, Ill., at age five when his mother LaTosha Brent fled an abusive relationship. She was just 16 when Brent was born.
Though he excelled in three sports - football, basketball and track - Brent often had little supervision because his mother worked long hours to pay the bills. When she was no longer able to work due to health issues, she moved out of town to live with her mother. Brent, meanwhile, was taken in during his senior year of high school by Isy Hoomanawanui, an assistant coach on the football team, whose son Michael (now a tight end for the New England Patriots) became Brent's best friend and eventually his teammate at Illinois.
"I talked to him earlier today, and he's in tears," Brit Miller, a former Illinois teammate and current St. Louis Rams fullback, said of Michael Hoomanawanui. "Hawaiians don't cry. He feels for his brother. Everyone makes dumb decisions, and it seems Josh keeps paying for his with the highest and worst price."
As an Illinois sophomore in 2008, Brent missed two games for what the team had termed an illness, but Zook's refusal to answer questions about it at the time - "I'd rather you not ask me about Josh...I'm not in any position to be able to talk about it," he told reporters - led to rampant fan speculation that there was a discipline problem.
Zook says he does not remember that particular incident, but emphasized he would not have covered for Brent if he had been suspended.
"He didn't have a lot of problems at Illinois," Zook says. "He had one major mistake (the DUI) that he made. He was at a party and a girl was there that was drunk, and he was worried about her getting home and trying to take care of her. He got caught and paid dearly for it. I had to discipline him and the university disciplined him, but he came back and did the things he had to do. He wasn't a problem at all. They weren't angels, but I wasn't either."
Brent was slated to come back for what many thought would be an All-Big Ten season in 2010, but he did not meet academic eligibility requirements. When an attempt to get him eligible through a junior college failed, he entered the supplemental draft.
"You're able to sit back and look at your mistakes and realize why they were mistakes," he told The Pantagraph. "You're able to fully comprehend and understand where the mistakes were made, and not just finding where to place the blame."
Zook said Brent was "a smart kid" who lacked the focus and discipline to do his academic work.
"Him and Jerry both, you had to stay on them constantly to do the things you needed them to do (academically)," Zook said. "But they don't have the corner on that market."