From mentee to mentor

As a member of the ’85 championship Bears team, Brian Cabral has played for and worked with some of football’s giants. Now, he’s a giant influence on the Sycamores’ defense.

Brian Cabral has coached college football champions, and he was a member of the Chicago Bears team that won Super Bowl XX in 1986. Another of his biggest football moments came courtesy of … a single sheet of paper.

The sheet contained no football plays, but it helped provide Cabral a path to many coaching victories. Cabral was an active player for the Bears when he served as a volunteer coach during spring practice at Northwestern University. Cabral also went through some career development and career testing.

Brian Cabral is seen during his time with the Chicago Bears.

Brian Cabral is seen during his time with the Chicago Bears.

“I’ll never forget, the second-to-last question on that questionnaire was: ‘What do you like about your present occupation?’ Cabral said. “Obviously, the excitement, the challenge and all of that. The last question was: ‘What do you want from your next occupation?’ I thought … shoot! I want all of the same things.”

As the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for the Sycamores’ football program, Cabral contributed to the excitement Indiana State players experienced in 2014 when the Sycamores earned their first trip to the NCAA FCS playoffs since 1984.

Cabral’s coaching style has been created by both his own experiences and the influence of many mentors — whether it was Bill Mallory, who coached Cabral at the University of Colorado or Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, who coached Cabral with the Bears.

“Bill Mallory at Colorado had a tough work ethic,” Cabral said. “I loved Ditka’s honesty. He was going to be honest with you, whether you liked it or not. I also picked up a little bit of Buddy Ryan’s temperament in the sense that when in doubt, I’m going to pressure. I’m going to blitz.”

Indiana State linebacker Connor Underwood has been one beneficiary of that style. The Sports Network named Underwood a first team All-American in 2014 after he set two new school records for quarterback sacks (13.5) and tackles-for-loss (25) in a single season. It is the type of performance Cabral witnessed a handful of times before as an assistant coach at his alma mater.

Cabral joined the Colorado coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1989. When he came to Indiana State, he had completed 24 seasons in Boulder that included times when he served as an associate head coach or an interim head coach.

“I was blessed and fortunate to coach at Colorado,” he said. “I had a lot of great players. It was a lot of fun. For that to happen at your alma mater is a great experience.”

The opportunity to work with Indiana State head coach Mike Sanford made making the move from Colorado an exciting prospect for Cabral. The two previously worked together at Purdue University.

“Brian has always cared deeply about the players that play for him, while keeping that balance of being caring and also being demanding and setting high standards,” Sanford said.

Part of that discipline came from Cabral’s childhood. Cabral’s father went through military training at Fort Benning, Ga., before he later moved the family to Hawaii.

“I had to do chores, and my chores were inspected,” Cabral said. “It had to be done right.”

While Cabral may have disliked yardwork as a kid, gardening is now one of his hobbies. Snowboarding was a favorite pastime in Colorado, and he noted with a laugh that he has retired from skateboarding.

That background in Georgia, Hawaii and Colorado introduced Cabral to people from many different backgrounds.

“That ability to relate to and communicate with a variety of different people contributes to the outstanding coach that Brian is,” Sanford said. “Brian wants to work well with the coaches around him, and he is a real mentor to the (other) coaches on the staff.”

Cabral also helps with student-athlete recruiting efforts in Indiana, Illinois and Colorado. When the Sycamores hit the road to tangle with opponents in their backyards, it allows Cabral to witness some brand new sights.

“I enjoy seeing parts of the country I had never seen before in Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and Michigan,” Cabral said. “I enjoy that — seeing the fields and farmhouses and different personalities.”

While Cabral has cultivated friendships far from home, he is also loyal to his home state of Hawaii. He is a founding member of the Polynesian Coaches Association. The association conducts an annual instructional camp for high school players from Hawaii and American Samoa. They also have helped run football camps given by former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who retired from the NFL earlier this year.

The enthusiasm and effort Cabral has seen in those high school kids is something he also sees daily in Terre Haute.

“A couple of things I love about ISU is our players are willing to do everything they can to be good and the campus is beautiful and very accessible,” Cabral said. “That is impressive. I came from a beautiful campus in Boulder, Colo. To see what they have done here has been appealing.”

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