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Former Oregon Ducks offensive line coach Steve Greatwood says Doug Brenner ‘would’ve had an opportunity’ to make NFL

EUGENE — Former Oregon Ducks offensive line coach Steve Greatwood compared former UO offensive lineman Doug Brenner’s abilities and traits to a number of his other former players who eventually made it into the NFL and believes Brenner “would’ve had an opportunity to at the very least make it as a free agent into an NFL training camp” had it not been for the 2017 winter workouts that led to Brenner being hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis.

Greatwood, who worked at UO from 1982-94 and again from 2000-16, tested in the civil trial between Brenner and the University of Oregon, former football coach Willie Taggart, former strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde and the NCAA in Lane County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

Testifying remotely via video feed from Germany, where he’s now coaching, Greatwood said Brenner’s height (6-foot-2) “may not have been optimal” for an NFL center, but that measurable alone would not have kept him from being considered by pro franchises. There are nine current NFL centers who are 6-foot-2 or shorter, according to The Football Database, many of whom made it to the league as undrafted free agents.

“I think Doug had some similar traits athletically and from an intelligence standpoint of several young men that I had the opportunity to coach that have made it in the NFL or are currently playing in the NFL,” Greatwood said. “From an athletic standpoint and from an intelligence standpoint and also from a leadership standpoint, which I believe is very, very important.”

Asked for comparisons for Brenner to other players he has coached, Greatwood cited former Cal offensive linemen Jake Curhan and Patrick Mekari, former Oregon offensive linemen Mark Asper, Fenuki Tupou, Darrion Weems and Geoff Schwartz and former UO defensive linemen Brandon Bair, Matt Toeaina and Ra’Shon Harris. Five of those players were drafted, all in the fifth through seventh rounds, and four were undrafted free agents.

Greatwood’s testimony in direct examination by Jason Kafoury, one of Brenner’s attorneys from Kafoury & McDougal and Eiva Law, was heavily contested by Stephen English of Perkins Coie, which is representing Taggart, Oderinde and UO, who Brenner is suing for $20 million for pain and suffering partially due to “impaired earning capacity and impaired opportunity to play football in college and thereafter,” and $5.5 million for past and future medical expenses.

English objected six times, including to three straight attempted questions regarding NFL scouts and how they would learn about and assess Brenner’s medical history. Judge Clara Rigmaiden sustained four of English’s objections, but overruled his last, allowing Greatwood to address whether, based on his training and experience and observations, if Brenner was the kind of player who could make it to the NFL.

“In comparing Doug’s athletic ability and qualities with former players that I have coached that have either made it in the NFL or had an opportunity to make it in the NFL, then yes, I believe Doug would’ve had an opportunity to at the very least make it as a free agent into an NFL training camp,” said Greatwood, who went on to say the fact that Brenner’s senior season in 2017 was cut short due to a hip injury, “was basically the kiss of death as far as his senior season and his draft prospects went.”

During cross-examination, English attempted to show Greatwood’s bias against his clients by asking how he felt about being fired from UO when the head coaching change happened in December 2016, to which Greatwood said he was “as upset as anyone’s going to be after 32 years of coaching at a place.” Greatwood also acknowledged he was upset that Taggart, who has not been present in court yet this week due to a previously scheduled obligation, didn’t even reply to a text message from him expressing interest in joining Taggart’s coaching staff to remain at UO.

Former Oregon and current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux, Brenner’s teammate at Jesuit High School and UO and his college roommate, continued his testimony on Wednesday.

Mondeaux corroborated much of what has already been tested to regarding the details of the January 2017 workouts conducted by Oderinde that led to Brenner and two other players being hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis. Mondeaux said Oderinde was “less” competent compared to other strength and conditioning coaches he’s been coached by during his college and NFL career.

Mondeaux also testified that the “dawn patrol” exercises that were briefly conducted during Taggart’s less than one-year tenure at UO were not limited to accountability for academic misgivings, claiming he had to perform one of the sessions because he was “late to a team dinner.” After pushing a 45-pound plate 20 yards up and back on a football field, 20 times within 90-second intervals as required in “dawn patrol,” Mondeaux said that he was “seeing stars and throwing up.” Those workouts are being considered in the case only for the punitive damages against the NCAA.

Dr. Donald Nortman, a Harvard-educated nephrologist with more than 40 years of experience who is now affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, provided lengthy testimony about the kidney damage he believes Brenner suffered as a result of the January 2017 incident.

Nortman said the Brenner “probably lost 40% of his kidney function” compared to before the Jan. 2017 workouts, that his life could be shortened by 15 years due to acute kidney injury and that he’ll “more likely than not” require dialysis and/or a kidney transplant later in life.

Nortman said there was “very high probability” Brenner began to suffer rhabdomyolysis on the first day of the workouts and he shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in the second day at all. Nortman also said Brenner “unequivocally should’ve been admitted” after his emergency room visit to PeaceHealth Medical Center on Jan. 12, 2017, when he was initially released, and characterized the care Brenner received by UO’s doctors and the first ER doctor he was treated by as “suboptimal.”

Upon cross-examination, attorneys for UO, Taggart and Oderinde as well as the NCAA, took issue with aspects of Nortman’s characterizations of Brenner’s level of care at the time. David Fuad, one of the NCAA’s lawyers from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, pointed out Brenner’s body mass index has gone up since the incident and that his obesity, as defined medically, and preexisting hypertension would also be factors into the current condition of his kidneys .

Brenner’s lawyers playing their video deposition of NCAA vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan, who said the governing body of college sports does not launch enforcement investigations related to athlete health and safety issues, including in the event of death, because it’s outside their purview. Duncan said he is not aware of and hasn’t heard of any desire from the NCAA’s member schools to have the organization legislate and enforce bylaws related to player health and safety.

The day ended with objections from both teams of defense lawyers regarding the testimony of Hunter Hramika, a former South Florida football player, who recalled workouts in summer 2016 conducted by Oderinde while he and Taggart were at USF that were similar to those that occurred months later after their arrival at UO. Hramika, who appeared via video from Florida, said his urine was “dark brown” — a symptom of rhabdomyolysis — after those workouts at USF. But that he didn’t seek medical attention and wasn’t ever diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis and that when he informed Oderinde of it, he was told to see an athletic trainer, Yuriy Chulskiy, who instructed him not to take part in the next workout session .

Greg Kafoury of Brenner’s legal team then read to the jury a series of text messages sent from Chulskiy to Taggart from July 12-15, 2015, informing the coach about the hospitalization of then-USF defensive back Deangelo Antoine with rhabdomyolysis.

The legal team for UO, Taggart and Oderinde is objecting to Hramika’s testimony on the basis of relevance and prejudice and are asking for it to be stricken and the NCAA’s lawyers are objecting due to lack of notice.

“They’re attempting to smear the University of Oregon and coach Oderinde under the guise that this has some connection to punitive damages, when there’s no notice to the NCAA,” Will Stute, one of the lawyers for the NCAA said;.

Rigmaiden will decide on the matter Thursday.

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