Having restored a football career he thought was behind him, Brian Brikowski is going to work harder than ever in the gym in the off-season.
Brikowski, a former Freehold Township High School standout, recently completed his rookie season in the indoor Arena Football League as a member of the Cleveland Gladiators.
Having not played football since 2009, it was quite an accomplishment to succeed at the professional level.
“It was truly a blessing,” Brikowski said. “I am ecstatic to do it again next year at a high level.”
Brikowski, who now lives in Burlington County, can thank his friend Matt Hoffman for the restoration of his gridiron career.
Hoffman, who played college football at Rowan University, told Brikowski he was going to a tryout for the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League, and that news sparked Brikowski’s interest.
Brikowski was able to secure an invitation to the tryout.
“It [pro football] was really one of those things I had in the back of my mind,” he said. “Once the opportunity came, I was all over it.”
Even though the positions Brikowski played — tight end and outside linebacker — do not exist in arena football (there are eight players on offense and eight on defense), he made the Soul as a defensive end.
He was cut by the Soul early in the season and hooked up with Lehigh Valley in the Indoor Football League.
He eventually got another AFL tryout, this time with the Gladiators. Brikowski made the team and played well in five games. He said teammates who have played in the NFL told him he has the potential to be invited to an NFL training camp and that was just what he wanted to hear.
Despite being light for his position (6-5, 255), Brikowski was able to make an impact on the field. He used his strength and quickness as well as his tenacity to make tackles for a loss and quarterback sacks in a league where offense rules.
The Gladiators won games by scores of 69-62 and 69-48 and lost one, 83-68.
“You know teams will score,” he said. “You’re looking to stop a team once or twice a half and get turnovers.”
Brikowski’s job as a defensive end was simple: “Get to the quarterback and stop the run.”
The Gladiators played before an average of 15,000 fans in the Quicken Loans Arena.
The road to the AFL was quite a roller coaster for Brikowski. After starring at Freehold Township, he received a scholarship to play football at the University of Akron.
He was never comfortable at Akron and came home to play for Monmouth University. He played two seasons for the Hawks as an outside linebacker, but was dismissed during his sophomore year because, he admits, “I got caught up in the partying at college.”
With football behind him, Brikowski transferred to East Stroudsburg University and finished his degree. Things fell into place through Hoffman, and Brikowski now has a second act to his football career.
Looking back at his Monmouth years, Brikowski said he had no regrets.
“It made me who I am today,” he said. “I can call football a job.”
Brikowski said he was pretty beat up after playing an 18-game schedule, but he said he will work harder than ever this offseason as he looks ahead to the 2013 AFL season and another opportunity to impress NFL scouts.
After all, he can call football his job.