Walking down memory lane with Jasper Brinkley

Watching a little NFC conference championship game, and I’m listening to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman discuss rookie middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who’s played so well in place of the injured E.J. Henderson. I covered Brinkley – and his twin brother, the awesomely-named Casper – when they played at Thomson (Ga.) High School and I worked at the Augusta Chronicle.

I couldn’t remember how much I actually had written about the Brinkley’s. Thomson has been a powerful program for the last few decades, but it’s also one of the outlying schools in the Chronicle’s coverage area. We gave the school pretty good coverage and we attended many of the football games on Friday nights, but Thomson wasn’t one of our top priorities either.

So I googled “Josh Katzowitz” and “Jasper Brinkley” to see what would pop up and if I ever wrote anything significant about him. Before that, though,, I found this feature from last week about Brinkley in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The moral of the story: don’t make fun of Casper and Jasper.

The lede:

The kids in Thomson, Ga., used to give Jasper Brinkley and his twin brother, Casper, a hard time. They’d poke fun at them because, well, they were named Jasper and Casper.

“Oh yeah, all the time,” Brinkley said. “All the way through middle school.”

Then they stopped.

“We hit our growth spurt in high school,” Brinkley noted.

Nobody was foolish enough to mess around with Jap and Cap – their family nicknames – after that.

Good stuff. But then I found this story that I had written for the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. And I groaned. Before I clicked on the link, I knew exactly what the story was – even though I haven’t thought about it in nearly seven years.

Since I was the paper’s main prep writer and since Feb. 5, 2003 was National Signing Day – where all the local prep stars ink their names on letters of intent for colleges big and small – I had to write the annual “This is what happened on Signing Day” story. Basically, it was me driving to a high school (or maybe, if I was really, really lucky, two or three high schools) where multiple players, in a press conference setting with TV cameras filming away, were filling out their letter of intent paperwork and putting on their collegiate hats and smiling big for the cameras and drinking the punch and eating the cookies that were brought into the library for the big event.

It was usually a pretty boring day. And usually a pretty boring story to write.

So, on this day, I decided to spice up it up a bit. This is the lede I wrote – which I say to this day is pretty decent.

By Josh Katzowitz/Staff Writer

Perhaps the festivities for National Signing Day were symbolized best by Thomson offensive lineman Brian Brinson.

In the school media center Wednesday morning, Brinson wore a light-blue short-sleeve dress shirt with a tie. It was half-untucked and didn’t quite go with his dark-blue slacks and brown Timberland sneakers.

He basically looked like the ultimate high school student, who doesn’t worry about fashion – or, for that matter, matching.

The best part of his outfit was the big goofy grin on his face. That was why Brinson – who with teammates Montrell Neal and Jasper Brinkley signed with Georgia Military College – looked like a million bucks.

I thought nothing of my story until the next morning where I caught heat from some readers. They said I had insulted Brinson; they said I had embarrassed him. They said I should think about how my words will affect others before I put them on the page. I hadn’t thought about that lede as insulting or embarrassing. After all, I pointed out, I said he looked like a million bucks. I wasn’t trying to insult him. I was trying to make a contrasting statement that would make an interesting and readable lede (I still maintain that I succeeded in that aspect).

I reread the story a few minutes ago, and I didn’t think it was too bad. But I can see the readers’ point. I probably had insulted him (by calling him sloppy and mismatched), and I probably had embarrassed him (by calling him goofy). It taught me a nice lesson, especially when dealing with and writing about high school students. To this day, I really try to think about what the words emanating from my laptop will mean to the person I’m writing about. Believe me, I thought about that a ton when writing the Rick Minter chapters for Bearcats Rising.

But I hate the fact that this kid probably can’t look at this story (if his parents, in fact, clipped it and put it into a scrapbook, though I can imagine why they, instead, would have burned every copy of the newspaper they could find) without remembering how he felt Feb. 6, 2003.

So, wherever you are, Brian Brinson: I’m sorry. I hope the embarrassment I might have caused has faded away. Hopefully, you can laugh about it today. Hopefully, you won’t send Jasper and Casper to find me.

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