The 2017 football season was unique for former Colorado player and assistant coach Brian Cabral.
After 30 years of coaching and being around the game for most of his life, Cabral stepped away from it a year ago.
"I really wanted to get closer to my grandchildren," he said. "I didn't want to miss any more than I already have."
Cabral played for the Buffs from 1974-77, under head coach Bill Mallory, who passed away last month. After a career in the NFL that included being a part of the Chicago Bears' 1985 Super Bowl championship team, Cabral got into coaching.
For 24 seasons (1989-2012), he coached with the Buffs, including 23 as a full-time assistant — making him the longest-tenured assistant in school history. After working for five head coaches, Cabral was not retained when current coach Mike MacIntyre took over in 2013.
Cabral then moved on to Indiana State, where he worked as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for four seasons.
Being out of the game last year was new, but enjoyable, he said.
"It was good," he said. "I feel like there's more for me to accomplish, but in a different arena."
That arena is working with Buffs4Life, an organization designed for Buffs — current and former — helping other Buffs. Former CU player and head coach Jon Embree spearheaded the program for years, but because of other commitments, he stepped aside and Cabral and another former CU head coach, Gary Barnett, have taken over the role of co-honorary chairmen.
"Getting involved with Buffs4Life and former players, that's kept me busy," Cabral said. "At the same time, it feels good to reconnect with 24 years worth of players. And for a worthy cause, too."
Buffs4Life has refocused its efforts this year to help with suicide prevention and assist those with mental health issues. To help him in those efforts, Cabral said he has become involved with Operation Restored Warrior, which helps military veterans through mental health struggles.
"They've taken me in and agreed to train me," Cabral said. "It's been a successful program, so they're agreeing to train me in what they're providing those men. The intent is to be able to take their program to former athletes, to former players; not just professional, but competitive collegiate players."
It's certainly a change from his years of coaching linebackers, but the new challenge has invigorated Cabral, who said, "I've got a lot more to accomplish. For Gary and I, it's been a really interesting year, just connecting with the mental health services that our former players need to be provided."
Retiring from coaching has allowed Cabral to get involved with something new, while also returning to familiar surroundings. Although he worked in Indiana for four years, Cabral said he and his wife, Becky, kept their home in Boulder.
"Coming over the hill as a recruit, I fell in love," he said. "The minute I saw that view, I always knew. My wife is from Boulder, my kids all grew up in the same house for 24 years. I always knew Colorado and Boulder is where I want to be and where I want to finish."
From afar, he's watched the Colorado football program over the past five years and said, "It's phenomenal, the growth since I've left; in every way. I think the program has grown, especially the facilities. The facilities are phenomenal and MacIntyre is a class guy. I know he's doing all the right things. We've had some visits. I have a lot of respect for him and what he's doing and, more importantly, how he does things."
Despite his years of experience working with linebackers, Cabral said he hasn't focused in on CU's linebackers to see how they're doing. Instead, he watches as a fan.
"Ironically, I probably watched more football on TV (last year) than I did in 30 years of coaching," he said. "I needed to make a clear break from coaching. I have been so blessed to be a part of it for so long and do the things I've been able to do.
"Now, I'm in a different arena and I need to focus myself in the arena I'm in. I'm trying to leave a legacy in a different way."