As top running back at Stevenson High School in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire, Illinois, Kyle Brandt would strut down the halls in his letterman jacket and blast Pearl Jam from his eight-disc CD changer as he drove around in his Jeep.
But then something struck him during his senior year as he began resenting “being the jock.”
“That was just me—it was football, Pearl Jam, my friends, looking for a girlfriend and all that,” Brandt said. “It was very one-dimensional.”
It wasn’t until he arrived at Princeton University—where he was a three-year starter as a running back and kick returner—that he began to branch out. Inspired and encouraged by the diverse Ivy League campus, Brandt sought to expand his interests beyond the gridiron, grunge and girls, so he auditioned for his first ever play the spring of his freshman year.
“I got in it, I liked it and immediately felt I liked the audience, the dialogue, the stakes,” he said. “Even the biggest movie stars in the world will tell you the best thing they ever do is live theater. It is intoxicating and it became something I wanted to do.
“At the same time I realized I wasn’t going to come close to becoming a professional football player, so then I’m like, ‘I want to do the acting thing.’”
Twenty years since he graduated from Princeton, Brandt’s career and life of taking chances continues to pay dividends. He’s currently co-host of Good Morning Football on the NFL Network and hosts hybrid trivia-and-interview podcast 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt available via The Ringer and Spotify where guests have included Aaron Rodgers, Keegan-Michael Key, Erin Andrews and Guy Fieri.
Prior to joining Good Morning Football in 2016, Brandt’s career has taken plenty of twists and turns, leading him to boasting “My résumé is weirder than yours,” though he wouldn’t change any of it, whether it was appearing on MTV’s The Real World: Chicago, wearing the tightest baby blue lycra T-shirt to land a three-and-a-half year role playing Philip Kiriakis on Days of Our Lives, getting blasted with dodgeballs by baseball legend Randy Johnson in a Right Guard deodorant commercial, or ultimately giving up acting to return to sports, which led him to The Jim Rome Show.
“The funny thing is, sports media seems like the dream,” Brandt said. “Being on Good Morning Football seems like the dream job, and it is, but it’s my plan B, it’s my fallback plan. I remember Robin Williams’ father told him if you’re going to try to be an actor, learn to be a welder, too, because you’re going to become a welder. My welding is talking about should the Cowboys pay Dak Prescott?
“Acting was this girl I was chasing and it never worked out, then I went back to my college girlfriend and we found love again. That was me returning to sports and thank God the NFL Network was crazy enough and adventurous enough to say, ‘Let’s take that guy who never played one second of NFL football and doesn’t have inside sources as kind of a wild card.’ They took a chance on me and over 1,000 episodes later, I hope I’m making them proud they did.”
Time to Get Real
After juggling years of rehearsals and rushing drills at Princeton, Brandt was poised to make his next big move when another opportunity caught his eye.
The production crew for The Real World, a reality TV show on MTV, was on campus conducting auditions for its upcoming season. Simply because they were “100 yards from where I slept at night,” Brandt—who had several beers and was a big fan of the show as all college kids were at the time—moseyed over for a laugh and because he was tired of playing NCAA Football and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in his apartment. What’s the worst that could happen?
“It if had been a mile away, at Rutgers that year, or they just said, ‘Carson Daly here, send in your application tapes,’ I would have never been on The Real World,” Brandt said.
After several callbacks and flights to Los Angeles, Brandt would land the largest acting role of his budding career: himself.
Three weeks after graduating college in 2001, it was time for Brandt to “stop being polite and start getting real” with six other strangers for four months of filming, coincidentally in Chicago, a mere 30 minutes from his parents’ house.
For the first two months, Brandt enjoyed being a college-aged kid living in a converted bookstore/coffeehouse for free and being able to party all the time on the same network of Beavis and Butt-Head, TRL and MTV Spring Break. Then, as the show’s tagline suggests, things started getting real.
On the morning of September 11, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, another crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth flying towards Washington, D.C., crashed landed in a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, as the deadliest terrorist attack in history sent shockwaves across the globe.
“It was distracting, confusing, really weird,” Brandt said. “My sister was in Tribeca that day running in the streets, so it was unbelievably terrifying, and it was captured on the same network that gave us O-Town, so the contrast was really sharp. Bizarre day.”
With his first major television experience under his belt, like all aspiring actors, Brandt headed west to Los Angeles.
Having deja vu from his days going through the rigorous and exhausting collegiate recruiting process, Brandt again was attempting to put his best foot, face, physique or any other distinct characteristic that made him stand out from thousands of others forward in the hopes of getting signed. The first audition he did was for “whatever resident hunk” was to appear opposite Elle Woods in the TV version of Legally Blonde. Brandt didn’t get the role, calling the audition “unbelievably, notoriously embarrassing,” while the show didn’t get picked up after filming the pilot.
Like a confident Woods proclaiming, “I don’t need backups, I’m going to Harvard,” Brandt continued working towards his goal, eventually making some serious headway with NBC daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. The anxious 23-year-old phoned his agent ahead of his final audition seeking last-minute tips, advice or motivation.
“I’ll never forget that she said, ‘Wear the tightest shirt you can find,’” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s your advice? Not tap into my childhood or make sure the light is hitting me right?’ So I went to the Gap on Sunset Boulevard right next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the Chinese Theatre.”
Equipped with the smallest baby blue lycra T-shirt he could find—Brandt recalls the tag reading “XS”—he went to the biggest audition of his life.
“I’m sure out of all the six guys who screen tested and read the lines the same, none of them had a tighter shirt than I did and that’s what got me into that role,” he said. “That’s the story. It was the best advice she could have given me; it wasn’t her first time.”
For nearly four years on the same network that airs The Tonight Show and the Olympics, Brandt portrayed Philip Kiriakis, a marine-turned-NASCAR-driver who lost his leg because of a landmine.
He made $1,300 an episode, was on TV Monday through Friday and spent his weekends across the country giving talks, signing headshots for housewives and partying with fans of the show.
“They’re really into the show and they’re really into you and you’re really young and have nothing to lose, so those weekends were wild,” he said. “I had amazing, amazing memories of that time.”
The amazing memories would soon turn into harsh realities as Brandt needed to secure his next role, not only to advance his career, but simply to keep the lights on.
Wearing a cutoff T-shirt and giving his best “Blue Steel” look, Brandt and a group of other actors represented odor while being pelted by green dodgeballs (aka The Power Caps) from MLB pitcher Randy Johnson in a commercial for Right Guard’s new deodorant. Things didn’t get much better from there.
Brandt took the biggest blow in early 2007 when he received all of $500 to stand alongside Jose Canseco in a rundown studio asking viewers of a late-night cable access show to call in and bid on cameras and cell phones.
“If I kept up with the acting thing any longer, the light was not going to go on either literally or in my brain,” he said. “I was running out of money. I was trying really hard to get in front of every half-assed pilot they could put in front of me, and it just wasn’t happening. I tried as hard as I could.”
Out of necessity, Brandt rekindled a relationship with his first flame: sports. He joined The Jim Rome Show as a producer and writer later that year, and was promoted to executive producer in 2009 while regularly filling in as host beginning two years later. His relationship with sports burned even brighter when he joined the NFL Network in 2016.
While he may be happier than ever between Good Morning Football and 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt, that doesn’t mean Brandt has stopped taking chances. In fact, he landed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom he calls “the best interview in sports,” as his first-ever guest on 10 Questions by direct messaging him out of the blue on Twitter.
Brandt harnessed the power of social media to enlist the assistance of the Bills Mafia to get quarterback Josh Allen on the show in April, and admitted he has no trouble doing something similar to get dream guests Keanu Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kristen Wiig on as well.
He may even squeeze into an extra small baby blue lycra T-shirt if necessary.