On a day when the fishing is tough and the boat you’re on is woefully unprepared to actually catch fish, there’s plenty of time to talk.
Fortunately for me, I was with Miami Dolphins center Jake Brendel last Saturday for the 22nd annual Fins Weekend fishing tournament, which raised money for the Miami Dolphins Foundation that will benefit City Year Miami, a non-profit organization that focuses on the educational needs of students at area public schools.
Now heading into his third season with the Dolphins, Brendel, 25, played football at UCLA, where he graduated with a degree in economics. Named to several conference and district academic teams during his college career, Brendel talked about fishing, football, how players end up playing for a particular school or NFL team and a host of other topics.
In Brendel’s case, his willingness to do what’s best for his team has been the hallmark of his football career. Last season he filled in for former starting center Mike Pouncey and also played during field goals and kickoffs.
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As a youngster in Wisconsin, Brendel played football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse, wrestled and was a competitive swimmer in the backstroke and breaststroke. He also fished for bass, bluegills and walleye. He moved to Dallas with his mother when his parents divorced and started off playing noseguard for his high school football team.
“I was severely undersized. I was like 6-4, 225,” said Brendel, who was the same height but weighed about 250 pounds in eighth grade in Wisconsin. “I moved down to Dallas and I went through one offseason program there and I lost 25 pounds like in a month and a half. It was crazy. I put on a ton of muscle and I transformed my body composition and they were like, ‘Well, we want you at defensive end or tight end but honestly, there’s a hole in the noseguard position,’ so that’s where I slid into.”
After two years in that position, Brendel moved to the other side of the line and played center. When it came time to choose a college, Brendel said he wanted to play in a completely different part of the country, so he narrowed his choices to California schools — UCLA, USC and Stanford.
His decision to attend UCLA was based on being able to play center and the opportunity to redshirt his freshman season.
“Stanford wanted me to play defense,” Brendel said. “They didn’t want offense I guess. They’re a pro-style scheme and they’re looking for a certain type of body.
“[At UCLA,] I knew they had a senior center who’d played three years before that, so I knew I didn’t really have a shot to play my first year there. So I might as well just not be on the field, I might as well develop more, kind of spend that time making sure I’m the best player that I can be when it comes to my first year playing. And that’s what I did. And I was lucky enough to not see the field and have a true freshman redshirt year.”
An undrafted free agent, Brendel signed with his hometown team, which had a great center, Travis Frederick, whom he hoped to learn from. The Cowboys told Brendel they had him graded as a sixth-round draft choice, but they didn’t have a sixth-round pick that year.
Brendel said that had he entered the draft the previous year, in 2015, after playing for three years at UCLA, he probably would have been drafted in the fourth through seventh rounds when he ranked sixth out of the eight available centers. In the 2016 draft, there were 20 centers.
“A lot of it depends on supply and demand,” Brendel said. “I know a ton of that because of [studying economics at] UCLA.”
He got another lesson in the economics of the NFL after he made the Cowboys practice squad and played in every preseason game, then got hurt three weeks into the regular season.
“I had a soft-tissue injury and they were basically, ‘If you’re on the practice squad you’ve got to practice.’ It’s part of the game so they decided to release me,” Brendel said.
That’s like getting rid of a new car because it has a flat tire, but the Cowboys’ decision benefited the Dolphins. After two weeks of rehab in the Dallas area, Brendel was asked to come to Miami for a workout and he’s been with the team ever since.
“Fastest workout I’ve had, ever,” Brendel said. “They already saw my film and they already knew that I was a good fit for the scheme that they have here.”
Brendel started off on Miami’s practice squad in October of 2016 and was promoted in November and played in one game. Last season he played in all 16 games, twice filling in when Pouncey was injured during the game.
A side benefit of playing football for the Dolphins is the opportunity to enjoy South Florida’s great fishing. Brendel, who lives in Davie, and his girlfriend, Zan Wilson, often fish together for peacock bass.
“We basically just hop from lake to lake and walk a couple of canals and see if we can find any beds,” Brendel said. “We use live shiners and some swimbaits, like Rat-L-Traps.
“We’ll probably throw one shiner out there and as soon as a fish shows interest, then we usually throw a swimbait after it, because they kind of feed in groups of four or five.”
Brendel, who caught a sailfish in last year’s tournament, said he and Wilson would like to do more saltwater fishing.
“We haven’t done anything offshore at all,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of people with boats on the team. But I have a couple of friends through Zan who dolphin fish, so I will be doing a lot of that this summer.”
Hopefully with much better results than last Saturday.
Tournament results: Michael John Greisman, Rick Pruim and Alberto Suarez of Team Remix won the Fins Weekend fishing tournament and a trip on the Dolphins charter plane to an away game with 80.4 pounds of fish. Pruim had the catch of the day with a 61.4-pound wahoo.