He played every down as if it were his last.
And during fall camp, the end finally called Frank de Braga’s number.
The Fallon native ended his football career two weeks ago after a scary incident nearly left him unconscious. It was during the acclimation period for Division II Colorado Mesa University and the players were running drills with only helmets.
De Braga said he clipped the knee of a teammate and immediately felt as if he was about to lose consciousness. De Braga went to the athletic trainers and then to a doctor, who advised him to stop playing.
De Braga said he was told he was at an “increased risk for permanent brain damage” if he continued playing contact sports.
“They said if I’m not doing contact sports then they don’t have to worry about it,” De Braga said.
The hard-nosed de Braga suffered another concussion and was knocked out during spring practice when he ran into a retaining wall. He had also suffered a concussion during his senior year playing for Fallon.
During the summer, however, is when symptoms started to crop up, de Braga said.
“I was working out in the summer … I kind of black in and out,” he added. “At the first practice, I got dinged and then I went and saw the trainer. They kind of advised me to hang it up.”
In addition, de Braga said doctors also discovered issues with his neck, although he said it is not believed a previous injury in high school where he fractured a vertebrae was the cause.
De Braga, though, has always been a tough player, fighting through injuries to be on the field with his teammates. His style of play was aggressive with a penchant for contact and a fearless mindset.
But the decision to hang up his pads wasn’t easy, although his family — parents Lester and Angela and his brothers, Trent and Trevor — and CMU coaches advised him the risk was not worth of possibly suffering a serious injury or brain damage.
“I talked with the family and decided to give it up,” Frank de Braga said. “It was kind of a crappy deal, but it’s not worth the rest of my life.
Still, Frank de Braga said he mulled the decision for several weeks before accepting the grips of his reality. He came to understand and accept his quality of life is much more important than suiting up one last time.
“It was probably the hardest thing I had to do,” de Braga said. “They all said it wasn’t worth it. The coaches had my back and thought it was crazy I was trying to come back even with some of the injuries I’ve had before. In the long run, it was going to be the best thing for me.”
Perhaps what saved de Braga from himself is the reversal in player safety and the ongoing concussion issues in the NFL and throughout the country. Now, coaches, trainers, parents and players understand the dangers of concussions and how symptoms can manifest weeks after the initial injury.
“The way I look at it, I was brought up to play through injuries,” de Braga. “I think a lot of people have that mentality. I remember a player came in at the end of fall last year and talking because he had to quit because of concussions, and I remember sitting there going, ‘Oh, I’ve had a couple of those and (I hope) that it’s nothing too serious.’ And now here I am. It’s a better deal they have going on now.”
Although playing football is no longer an option for the criminal justice major, there is a sliver lining. De Braga, a junior who is on target to graduate in three-and-a-half years, is now one of three student coaches Mavericks head coach Russ Martin has on staff.
“Frank is a great young man,” Martin said. “He’s a young man that would love to be playing if he could. It was a standpoint from the concussions … the doctor giving advice there may be effects long term. There are other things in life than football.”
Martin, though, has kept de Braga on scholarship to finish school and assist with the program.
“He’s very smart and understands the game,” Martin added. “He cares about people. It gives him an opportunity to stay involved with the program, which is what we want and he would like.”
De Braga, who played defensive back, now coaches his former teammates. The Mavericks opened their season last weekend with a 44-37 overtime win over Dixie State in a nonleague tilt.
“I talked to coach Martin and he said he wanted to keep me on scholarship,” de Braga said. “He asked if I would like to coach and I said ‘Of course.’”
This week they visit Texas A&M-Kingsville and open the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference slate on Sept. 20 against Adams (Colo.) State.
De Braga said adjusting to becoming a coach has been a challenge, but those players he lined up with respect him as an authority figure. His days consist of going to class, hitting the film room and breaking down the next opponent in addition to his on-field duties.
“It’s crazy, constantly going to meetings,” de Braga said. “Helping out the kids you used to play for was a little weird at first, but they all show respect because I’ve been through the system.”