March 30, 2012
Former Rice linebacker O.J. Brigance, who has served as an inspiration to countless individuals as he battles ALS while serving as the Baltimore Ravens senior advisor to player development, will be honored by Rice University as one of its 2012 Distinguished Alumni as part of the 2012 Association of Rice Alumni 2012 Laureates Dinner.
The event will be held on Saturday, May 12 at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston.
Brigance was an two-time All Southwest Conference linebacker for the Owls who remains the school's career leader in tackles. He earned his first All SEC honor despite playing most of the year with a broken hand.
He was an active member of Lovett College as well as the entire Rice community during his years on campus. In what would be a precursor of his own post-football pursuits, he served as the team's liaison to Career Services, spearheading efforts to encourage teammates to position themselves for life after Rice football.
Despite his accomplishments on the field, he was undrafted after college and began his pro career in the Canadian Football League where he quickly became a standout and won a Grey Cup Championship with the Baltimore Stallions in 1995. He eventually earned his chance in the NFL, making his debut with the Miami Dolphins in 1996. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 and earned a Super Bowl ring when the team won Super Bowl XXXV.
Two years later he retired as a player and joined the Raven's front office as Director of Player Development and was twice honored by the NFL for his programs to help fellow players with all aspects of managing their career and post-career plans.
When he was diagnosed with ALS, Brigance immediately set out to work on research and a cure for the disease, partnering with the Johns Hopkins University Packard Center for ALS Research and becoming their ALS ambassador. As the honorary chair of the Fiesta 5K run four times (2008-11), Brigance saw the event raise $800,000 for research. He also established his own foundation, the Brigance Brigade Fund brigancebrigade.org), which raises awareness and money for ALS research and patient services.
He returned to the Rice campus in April of 2009 for "Celebration of Courage", at which time the creation of the Brigance Courage Award was announced. The award recognizes a Rice football player who exhibits the qualities that Brigance employed during his career at Rice.
Brian Raines, who like Brigance came to Rice from Willowridge HS and played through injuries, won the first award, followed by Andrew Sendejo (2010) and Cheta Ozougwu.
Richard W. Cass, president of the Baltimore Ravens, said, "It is difficult for me to imagine a better role model for current Rice students than O.J. Brigance. He has had an outstanding career, but to achieve that success he has had to overcome adversity every step of the way. I am confident that he would be an inspiration to Rice's current students, in much the same way he is an inspiration to all of us at the Ravens and in Baltimore."