Leading up to Week 0 games on Aug. 28, HERO Sports is going to name the best returning FCS player by jersey number, 99-0. Due to rosters being updated at different times for teams across the country and to keep things consistent, jersey numbers are based on the 2020 fall-2021 spring season.
Note: Jersey numbers are based on 2020 fall-2021 spring rosters.
44: Jared Brinkman, DL (Sr.) — Northern Iowa
UNI’s defense has been scary good the last couple of seasons. The Panthers ranked seventh in the FCS in 2019 with 17.7 points allowed per game and fifth (taking out No. 1-ranked Montana and its two spring games) in 2020-21 with 15.3.
To still have a dominant defense in the spring was nothing short of amazing as the Panthers lost a lot of star power — LB Chris Kolarevic and DB Xavior Williams to Big Ten schools, DE Elerson Smith to the NFL Draft, and LB Bryce Flater to an early-season injury.
Plenty of standouts remained, though, including Jared Brinkman. The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder is incredibly productive on the interior of the defensive line. Brinkman racked up 83 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, five quarterback hurries, and three forced fumbles in 2019. He was named to the All-MVFC Second Team.
In the spring, he ate up double teams and still managed to record 38 tackles in seven games with nine TFLs, 3.5 sacks, three QB hurries, and two forced fumbles.
Brinkman was named to five different All-American First Teams — HERO Sports, Athlon Sports, AFCA, Stats Perform, and the AP. He was also named to the All-Conference First Team and was voted the MVFC Defensive Player of the Year. Brinkman finished seventh in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top FCS defensive player.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.