On the football field, senior Derek Brim’s made the most of his time at UB. He walked on from Canisius High School as a wide receiver and transitioned to the defensive secondary. When injuries came into play last year he ascended to starter at free safety. And he continues to hold that position while ranking second on the team in tackles.
But Brim’s story extends beyond the football field. He has spent parts of the last two summers as an intern at the General Motors’ Tonawanda plant, gaining valuable real-world experience while maintaining his commitment to football and pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.
During the “offseason,” that time of year between spring football and training camp, his Monday to Friday schedule looked like this:
6 a.m. – Reveille.
7-1:30 p.m. – Internship.
2-5 p.m. – Individual workouts with teammates.
6 p.m. – A class, “Introduction to Microprocessors.”
So much for summer vacation.
“That shows his commitment, the fact he’s getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning and he’s not getting home until 8, 9 o’clock each day and each minute of his day’s accounted for,” said senior cornerback Najja Johnson. “You’ve got to admire guys like that and appreciate their value and worth and his leadership that he brings to the table. It’s invaluable to our team.”
Brim has made his mark at GM. James Kirkland, the plant’s lead electrical engineer/supervisor, said Brim’s undaunted by the apparent complexity of a task. This past summer, during his second internship with GM, Brim was assigned to troubleshoot a software issue involving important data collection.
“We didn’t know it was an issue until we were looking at something else that we knew was an issue,” Kirkland said. “We unraveled the one issue and gave the other to Derek to fix. He did everything he was supposed to do and beyond. I pretty much left it up to him to see how much he could do and what he could handle and he was able to handle all of it without any problems.”
None of that surprises UB head football coach Jeff Quinn. Brim came to UB as a preferred walk-on, which means the coaches saw he had potential but didn’t have a scholarship to offer. Brim immersed himself in the transition to defense (he played both sides of the ball at Canisius), became a backup, earned a scholarship and grabbed hold of the starting role when the door was opened by an injury.
“We talk about that Next Bull In mentality and he was prepared,” Quinn said. “Tremendous student. Bright, sharp, plus he’s a Western New Yorker. We feel good about our plan of development and how he’s bought in. He’s blocked out all the external things that have gone on. A lot of kids get caught up in being in a non-scholarship situation. He just took everything we talked about and he internalized it to become a complete player.”
Brim’s exposure to electrical engineering began while he was a student at Canisius. For two years he participated in BEAM (Buffalo Engineering Awareness Program for Minorities).
“I was always good in math and science in high school so I figured I could do engineering in college,” Brim said. Dr. Jennifer Zirnheld, an associate professor at UB, knew Brim through BEAM and helped him secure the first internship. After that, he’s made his own way.
“I asked him if he’d be willing to come back when he’s done with school if he didn’t have any prospects with the NFL or going overseas to play or going to Canada to play,” Kirkland said. “I told him, ‘With everything you’re doing you’re setting yourself up to succeed after football because you have a degree that you’re working with that will open a lot of doors for you. With a technical degree like electrical engineering, the sky’s the limit.’ ”
Quinn’s not so sure Brim’s degree will factor in his first job after UB. He’s 6-foot, 200 pounds and has solid instincts in both run support and pass defense. If he continues to develop …
“I think he’s got a great shot potentially to be one of the best free safeties, be recognized at the end of the year, be able to show that on film and maybe potentially get a look at the next level,” Quinn said. “I think he could certainly make the best of it.”
“He’s a real cerebral player, makes a lot of plays, gets our whole defense lined up. He’s an excellent free safety,” Johnson said.