Brian Price has not had an easy life, don’t let his status as an NFL defensive tackle fool you. Sure there is privilege that comes with being a second round pick, and the former UCLA stand-out would probably be the first to admit it. But along the path to his football success has been a tumultuous personal story, one that took yet another tragic turn in the past couple weeks.
Price grew up in Los Angeles, Compton to be specific, a rough part of LA made famous in hip hop and gangsta movies. Those characterizations of the neighborhood did it few favors, but may have been more veracious than Los Angelinos would care to admit too: by the time Price was 15 he had already lost two of his brothers to gang-related shootings.
The brother to whom he was closest, Eddie, was shot and killed in 1998 at age 18, in a wrong-place, wrong-time drive-by after he’d come to the aid of a woman being harassed at a bus stop. Brother Damon was murdered in 2003, at age 24, while getting his life back together upon being released from prison.
The murders had a profound effect on Price, who found solace through football, art and his sister Bridget.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Price told Ron Bellamy of the Oregon Register-Guard back in college. “I have beautiful sisters and two great parents, and I have four nephews, two that I see all the time, and they remind me of my brothers so much it’s like I never really lost them.
“Losing them, it was hard on my family, but it brought us closer. I always think of them when I’m on the playing field, or when I’m not on the playing field, and how much my mom’s been through in her lifetime. I just want to make her proud and happy. I never want to put too much stress on her, or any stress at all, so I just always wanted to do the right things.”
Things got better for Price at UCLA where he was a stand-out defensive lineman for the Bruins. In his senior season he posted seven sacks, was voted first team All Pac 10 and won the conference’s defensive player of the year honors. He was drafted 35th overall by the Bucs.
It has hardly been smooth sailing since. A misdiagnosed hip injury tanked Price’s rookie year and injuries plagued his second.
“This guy has been in pain for literally a year,” Buccaneers trainer Todd Toriscelli said in September of 2011, as Price tried to find his way back after injuries so severe, he couldn’t put on his shoes by himself. “I’m not talking about just mild discomfort. I’m talking about driving home he’s got to sit on those bones, laying in bed, you just can’t get away from it. Certainly trying to play professional football … it’s just an absolutely remarkable thing, and a compliment to his drive and motivation. He is a very special person, I can tell you that.”
After entering the NFL with high hopes, Price was struggling stay healthy and find his rhythm on the field. With new head coach Greg Schiano now looking to retool the defense, this offseason and training camp were already going to be pivotal to Price.
Unfortunately for the 23 year-old, a couple weeks ago things got even tougher with the death of his sister in a hit-and-run accident.
Just days before her death, Price had been out to see her and her two sons, taking them to their first ever baseball game as their doting uncle.
“Their dads aren’t in their lives, so they look at me as their father. Sometimes, they’re like, “Dad, I mean, uncle.’ I wanted to make it special. So I picked them up in a limo. It was their first time in a limo. I had snacks for them, and we went to the game. I bought them souvenirs and stuff for the game. When they got home, she sent me a text and said, ‘I really appreciate you doing that. You’re their father figure. I love you so much. You’ve had such a positive impact.’ It was a real long text and really emotional.”
Price hadn’t seen his sister at the end of that day, instead opting not to accompany the limo back to her house.
He would never see her again.
After dealing with the deaths of both brothers, Price’s sister Bridget had become like a rock to him. News hit the third year defensive tackle hard, he shut down completely and eventually had to be hospitalized due to exhaustion.
“It was very hard to see my mom go through that [expletive] again,” Price told NFL.com. “Bridget was my homey, my best friend. She was everything and she was very protective about me. … Every inspirational text she sent me, I teared up. It always was special when it came from her. I don’t know. It’s hard.
“I want to vent and cry. I never cried. I wasn’t raised to cry. Even when I was looking at my brothers’ caskets, I didn’t cry. Some days, it hits me. I’m sitting here and I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Now Price must pick up the pieces and heal, both physically and mentally. He is mourning the one who helped him mourn. For the third time in his 23 years he has buried a sibling. But as he learned surviving Crenshaw High in Compton, he has to keep going.
Price has already announced he will adopt his sister’s two sons, the nephews that remind him so much of his two slain brothers. And though he is grieving, he has begun to work out and prepare for the upcoming season.
You can’t help but feel for Brian Price in this situation. With a broken heart he now faces a battle for his NFL livelihood. But Price is resilient, battle tested. He has made it through worse. He got out of Compton. He graduated UCLA. He’s a survivor and he keeps himself upbeat the same way he did when he lost his two brothers.
By reminding himself how blessed he is.
“When tragedy does strike you, you have to look up to the skies and know that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “We may not know that reason. I get (mad) just thinking about it, thinking why does this have to happen. But who am I to question God? I’m just a humble servant.
“She was my guardian angel [then], and she’s my guardian angel now. I know she’s looking down on me now.”