SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — Brian Price will tell you “I’m not a product of my environment. I’m a product of my imagination.”
His imagination covers his body in a number of tattoos that are too many to count. Each has its own meaning which he willingly discusses if asked.
His tattoos are his story, he stated on a recent Wednesday afternoon at the Velocity Sports Performance in Santa Clarita, Calif.
“A tattoo is nothing without ideas,” Price said. “I love tattoos.”
There’s the “Crenshaw” on his back, in homage to his high school.
“Driven by my ambition, desire higher position . . .” said Price, reciting a verse of late rapper Tupac Shakur’s song “Unconditional Love” which is engraved on his thumbs. When he looks down at the top of his hands he encounters his “motivation.”
There are the faces of his nephews — six-year-old E.J. on his left hand and nine-year-old Ja’Haun on his right.
“I have their face facing me so that when I’m in my stance, I’m looking at them and they’re looking at me,” Price said.
If you look on the right side of his head, you’ll see the name “Bridget” in script. That’s the name of his late sister, Ja’Haun and E.J.’s mother. She died in a car accident earlier this year as the victim of a hit and run. She was just 30 years old.
Price and Bridget were close, “best friends” as he described it to the children he came to speak to a Velocity Sports.
“She’s my biggest cheerleader, my biggest fan,” he said.
He carefully lets out one word at a time.
He recalls it vividly. It was a special night and a special time with his nephews. He took them to their first Dodgers game. Wanting it to be a special night, Price arranged for he and his nephews to ride in a limousine. As Price recalls, once the game was over, he was supposed to take his nephews home. He wanted to. And of course, he wanted to see his sister. However, another sibling volunteered to take them home.
“I was hoping I’d see her tomorrow or the next day,” Price said.
That day never came. She died two days later.
“That’s one thing I regret,” he said. “I should’ve went to go see her.”
He was sick over it. Price spent three days in a Tampa hospital suffering from stress, a high fever and dehydration among other things. The Buccaneers allowed him to return to Los Angeles to be with his family.
He still has a hard time keeping food down at times and sleep is easier said than done.
“We’re better now but we’re still struggling with those things and it’s really hard because he’s the type of guy that doesn’t deserve to have to struggle,” said his wife, track athlete Candice. “He’s walking around the house and he can’t even keep his food down. I felt bad but I knew that this was only character building for him. Everyone around is like ‘Oh my gosh, how could you do this, how could you do it?’ but Brian just sees it a part of his life and he knows that there’s a brighter day at the end.”
Candice, who competed in the U.S. Track and Field trials last week, didn’t run for two months staying by the side of her husband during his time of grief.
“It’s been very challenging but definitely worth it,” Candice said. “(It) really puts things in perspective like how important the Olympics and Super Bowls and practices are versus when you lose a loved one, nothing else matters.”
Price is still coping with the loss.
“(I’m) having a hard time sleeping,” Price said. “I’ll be up until six in the morning (and) then I’ll sleep for an hour and go about my day.” A part of his days now include trying to help his nephews deal with losing their mom. “That’s the hard part,” he said, “explaining to a kid that their mom is gone and their dad is not in their life. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. It’s a process.”
Price plans to adopt his nephews and bring them with him to Tampa.
“I’ve been taking care of them since they were born. They love me like crazy and I love them,” Price said. “I just love hanging out with them and they love hanging out with me. We just do the most simple things but it means a lot.
“When they were younger they would say ‘Dad, I mean uncle’ and I’d tear up a little bit because they just mean the world to me.”
Unfortunately, the death of a sibling wasn’t new territory for Price, who’s one of eight children. He’s been through this before.
When he was in the third grade, his brother Eddie was killed in a drive-by shooting. Five years later, his brother Damon was driving when he was shot in the back of the head.
Everyone has a struggle and for Price the death of siblings were just a part of his. For many where Price grew up, it was a part of the territory. Price was raised in one of Los Angeles’ most notorious gang infested areas — the home of the Rollin 60s Crip gang.
Having his brothers shot and killed at a young age, he figured it was a part of life. He thought his fate would be similar.
“I always thought I would be next,” he said. “I always thought I was going to get killed when I was younger because I saw young kids get killed. I seen bodies in my back yard and in my front yard. So I just grew up with that in my head. I just thought I was going to be next.”
It would have been easy for Price to retaliate for the deaths of Eddie and Damon. It would have been common place. It would have been just another way people cope with their struggles, resulting in more lives lost, but Price thought differently.
“Where I’m from people use their struggles as an excuse for failure and I would never accept that,” he said.
His rewards came on the football field. He was too heavy to play as a youth, so he didn’t get his first chance to play until his freshman year at Crenshaw High School.
As a 10th grader, he began working out with a trainer. He arose at 4:30 every morning to start his day, with weight training sessions before school. Football became his outlet as he dealt with his brothers’ deaths.
“I get to release a lot of anger I had,” he said.
He took it out, first on the Coliseum League, where he was two-time league defensive MVP. He was also named the City Section Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.
Price accepted a scholarship offer from UCLA. Although it was mere miles away, Westwood was a whole new world for him. He was able to leave behind some of the hardships that come with living in the inner city.
There, too, he excelled on the football field, earning All-America status as a junior and declaring early for the NFL Draft. He was taken with the 35th pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft.
As Price reflects on his NFL career to date, he says it’s been “trying.” His rookie season, he played just five games.
He was placed on injured reserve with a pelvic fracture. He needed two surgeries unlike anything that had been seen before in the NFL. He needed to have his hamstrings attached to his pelvis. The procedure required two screws to be inserted on each side to reattach the muscles.
He was told by some people that he should retire.
“It was the first of its kind,” Price said. “In the NFL, I’m the only dude with the surgery. I was told I’ll probably never walk again or play at the level that I played at. I was definitely told that. That just made me hungry. I’ll be in pain for the rest of my life and stuff like that (but) all I can do is go play.”
The road back to the field was slow and painful. Due to the NFL lockout last offseason, Price wasn’t able to get the proper rehab. He gained weight. The task of walking became a chore.
Just two months before the start of the season, he was able to jog for the very first time, but didn’t make it very far, just 10 steps.
“My process heading back to getting on the field was hard,” Price said. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t run.”
He continued to jog every day. He also brought a bike to go riding to help in his recovery.
As he struggled to get back on the field, he recounted the words of his mother from his freshman year at UCLA when he had NCAA Clearinghouse issues to start his career.
“When you’re going through (hardships), you’re delayed but not denied,” his mom said.
By Week 1, he was in the lineup and despite being in tremendous pain and relatively unhealthy, he managed to play 15 games last season at “40 percent.”
“I pretty much played football with no legs last year,” Price said.
He managed to get through potential career-ending surgeries, just as he persevered through the deaths of Eddie and Damon, much like he continues to deal with the death of Bridget.
If there’s one word synonymous with his journey, it’s “struggle.”
“You never know how long you’re going to struggle,” Price said. “Some people struggle and they wish it was over the next day. You never know how long it’s going to last you just got to endure to the end. Once you endure to the end, the rewards are going to be great.”
His life has required more struggle than most, so he’s learned to take it all head-on and never quit. He’s currently working on a book, not about his life, but about life’s struggles and how to persevere through life’s trials.
He hopes to be a motivating factor for others so that they don’t quit and give up on life, just like he never has.