At Forsyth Central’s football games, it’s not uncommon to see Brad Bretz roaming along the the Bulldogs’ sideline.
Standing at around 6-foot-5 and usually lugging around a video camera, he’s hard to miss. Shooting the games is his way of contributing to the school, combining his love of sports and the arts, all the while supporting his son Jake, who plays as a receiver and kick returner for Central.
But Brad is not the typical high school football parent. He’s actually had a football journey most people can’t say they’ve had. It took him to the pros and even to the other side of the world, but even so, he feels like his son’s already matched him, and then some.
“Jake has achieved more in high school than I ever did,” he said. “I know he doesn't have a ton of stats as far as wide receiver or things like that, but the two kickoff returns were just so super exciting to me. Nobody in my family's ever done that.”
But even if he’s humble about his football career, Brad still has enthusiasm for the game and does what he can with his experiences to help guide his son. Even though Brad’s NFL days were well before his son’s time, Jake still sees his dad’s excitement firsthand when he catches passes from him on Central’s field.
“He still enjoys it, honestly,” Jake said. “If he's had a long day of work or something, he's always like, ‘Yeah, let's go.’ It means a lot to me — how much he helps me and how much he loves to watch me play and helps me after games and just throughout the week. It's just awesome.”
Brad grew up across the country, in northern California. He played high school football in Silicon Valley, but only began playing quarterback in his senior year. It was a lot of handing the ball off, but he found his way to the next level, first at West Valley Junior College, then at California State Hayward (Now California State East Bay), where he got a chance to play with his brother.
But even with his relatively new exposure to the quarterback position, NFL scouts still wanted to get a look at him.
“I had size,” Brad said. “I had a strong arm. My radar was year-by-year, really week-by-week. You hope you do great things and I didn't think it could happen at a small D2 school. I wasn't putting up the numbers, but with my size and stature, I was an atypical dropback quarterback.”
And after a great workout with the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in 1993, the team signed him as an undrafted free agent. He made the practice squad and competed with Jason Garrett for a backup spot, but was cut, only to be brought back to Cowboys camp the next year. Even though his time in Dallas was brief, he still has fond memories and lessons on work ethic to impart on Jake from that time in his life.
“Michael Irvin was one of my favorites,” Brad said. “And the reason was — and I tell Jake this all the time — Michael Irvin expected the same out of me as he expected out of Troy (Aikman). I'll never forget, we were in the locker room, nobody was there, and he had a busted-up shoulder. He was like, 'Brad, let's go throw.’ I was like, 'If something happens to your shoulder any more, I'm the one that's going to get (in trouble).’”
After getting cut by the Cowboys again, Brad went to NFL Europe, which had just resumed play in 1995, to play for the Frankfurt Galaxy. He won a World Bowl there, and after a single training camp with the Washington Redskins sandwiched by two stints in Germany, he decided to hang it up.
“It was in and out of the NFL and NFL Europe for five years,” Brad said. “I blew out my knee and just moved on with life.”
Jake was born in 2001, and from the beginning of his football career in first grade, Brad has always done what he can to help him. When Jake didn’t make his team as a quarterback in middle school, he switched to receiver, and his dad was there to help him make the transition on the field and in the film room.
“It means a lot,” Jake said. “He just looks at the defense differently than my coach, and it helps me look at it from a different perspective sometimes. It's very beneficial. Coaches are like, ‘You need to be here and this is where your eyes should be,’ but my dad is like, ‘Look how this receiver gets off the ball. Look at their stance, look at how they do their route.’”
And that work has paid off. In his senior year, Jake is one of Central’s key players, both as a receiver and as a kick returner. When Brad looks on from the sideline each week, he’s more than proud of what he sees.
“I just think came into his own in high school and just started getting more confident,” Brad said. “It’s a very similar road, although he's done more. He's leading better than I was. He loves to compete, he loves his teammates, he loves his coaches, and he doesn't care who gets to score. He's just a team kid.”