Gone Too Soon: San Francisco 49ers OL Jake Brendel Has Been Confirmed…

Jake Brendel, a UCLA alum, will start at center for the 49ers in Super Bowl

Fans of USC and UCLA have good reasons to support the 49ers against the Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII.

Center Jake Brendel: The 49ers' best-kept secret | 49ers Webzone

Jake Brendel, the starting center for the 49ers, attended UCLA, while Sam Darnold, the backup quarterback, was a strong player at USC.

Neither a UCLA nor a USC player is currently with Kansas City. USC running back Keaontay Ingram and UCLA defensive tackle Matt Dickerson are on its practice squad.

With 61 touchdowns, Brendel’s offense tied the Miami Dolphins for the NFL lead in touchdowns. He was chosen as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. Since the beginning of the regular season, the 6-foot-4, 299-pound Brendel has started all 39 of San Francisco’s postseason and regular season games the 2022 campaign, having appeared in 250 offensive snaps and 171 special teams snaps throughout his first five seasons, including three game starts.

Brendel played a school record 52 games for UCLA from 2012 to 2015, missing only the season’s first game because of a knee injury. In 2015, as a redshirt senior, he was selected to the second team of the Pac-12.

Brendel was not chosen in the 2016 draft, beginning a four-season odyssey where he was waived by the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens while playing in 21 games, all but three as a reserve or special teams player.

Brendel signed with the 49ers on Feb. 7, 2020, then opted out of the season on Aug. 6, the deadline to do so, due to COVID-19 concerns.

“That decision was really hard,” Brendel told the San Francisco Chronicle in December. “I fully knew that might be the end.”

Brendel said in a 2022 interview that his sister was one of the first people in the United States to get COVID-19 and she tested positive for three months. Because he was considered at high risk, he would receive his entire $350,000 salary for the season if he opted out, while if he decided to play, he ran the risk of being cut before the start of the season and earning nothing.

Brendel spent the 2020 season at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida training facility, preparing for the 2021 season.

“After the COVID opt-out, I think a lot of people thought I’d be done,” Brendel said in 2022. “But I didn’t take a day off. I stayed in the weight room and stayed out on the field, and I made sure I was in the best shape of my life coming off that year.”

Brendel played 16 of San Francisco’s 17 regular-season games and all three playoff games in 2021, playing for 81 snaps on special teams and six on offense. He became the 49ers’ starting center in 2022 following the retirement of Alex Mack.

Darnold’s career arc is the opposite of Brendel’s. He was third player chosen in the 2018 draft, started 13 games in each of his first two seasons in the league and 12 in his third, then was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2021, starting 11 games that season.

Darnold lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield during the 2022 preseason, suffered a high ankle sprain in the final preseason game, was on injured reserve until week 10 and didn’t play until week 12. He started each of Carolina’s final six games, but was not re-signed after the Panthers chose 2021 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick in the 2023 draft.

Darnold signed as a free agent with San Francisco on March 16 and beat out Trey Lance to be the backup behind Brock Purdy.

Darnold has played in 10 regular-season games with the 49ers, starting the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, completing 28 of 46 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on the season. He has not played in the postseason.

“As a backup you have no idea what’s going to happen,” Darnold said this week. “Obviously, we want Brock to stay healthy and stay on the field. But if my time does come, I’m very confident in myself to be able to go out there and do my job.”

This will be the 50th Super Bowl to include a USC alumnus and 43rd to include a UCLA alumnus.

Dickerson played in 10 regular season games, making 11 tackles, and one tackle in his lone postseason appearance, the 27-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a divisional playoff game Jan. 21.

Since the Chiefs added him to their practice squad on November 30, two days after the Arizona Cardinals, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2022 draft, released him, Ingram has not been on the field for the Chiefs.

Darnold (San Clemente), defensive back Deommodore Lenoir (Salesian), and offensive lineman Matt Pryor (Lakewood) are the three players on San Francisco’s roster that attended high school in Los Angeles or Orange counties.

Mater Dei is the alma mater of 49ers practice squad linebacker Curtis Robinson.

Trent McDuffie, a cornerback for Kansas City, attended St. John Bosco.

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