BROOKS MAKES A CAVALIER CHOICE
Saying he had made up his mind two months ago, the most hotly coveted player in school history announced he will be playing for the University of Virginia next fall at a press conference at the high school on Monday.
Brooks, a consensus all-American who was also the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year, chose the Cavaliers over Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Florida State. He will sign his national letter of intent on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA Division I signing period for prep football players.
“Before we took off [for the press conference], he said VT [Virginia Tech] is it,” said father Perry Brooks. “…When he told me, I said ‘oh, my goodness’ because yesterday he said Tennessee, then last night he said U. Va. …I told him well I guess Florida State is tomorrow then.”
“I honestly can tell you that I did not know what he was going to say until he said it,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said. “He told me this afternoon that he was leaning toward Virginia. Normally, I will call the schools and let them know before we get into this. I couldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it because I was afraid he would say something different when he got up here.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Brooks said he came to the decision awhile back but still wanted to make his official visits just to make sure.
“I felt good about the [U. Va.] coaches from the get-go,” Brooks said. “I had just had to wait to see if that was really the place that I wanted to go to. I had to take all of my visits to make sure that was where I wanted to go to.”
“We wanted to make sure he was totally satisfied,” added mother Vergie Brooks.
It was clear that the Cavaliers were the front-runners for Brooks, showing him the most interest of any school. Virginia head coach Al Groh came to his first game of the season, a Sept. 7 clash at Stonewall Jackson. Brown actually didn’t recognize Groh right away when the team arrived at the football field that night.
“My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be and I got off the bus and I saw somebody at the locker room door and I said, ‘somebody’s here to let us in the locker room,” Brown said. “But as I’m getting closer, I said ‘I know that guy…and it wasn’t an assistant coach, it was coach Groh.”
Groh and his staff made sure that Brooks and Brown remembered them, though, showering Brooks with attention throughout the recruiting season. Even Monday, Hylton received a 10-page fax from Virginia making their case for Brooks to come to Charlottesville.
“I don’t think there was a second place,” Brooks said of his college choices. “There was only one place and that’s where I’m going.”
As a former defensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL, Groh’s ability to coach linebackers also helped sway Brooks.
“He [Groh] influenced me a lot,” Brooks said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Brooks initially wanted to play out of state, to “go as far away from home as possible.” He even liked Florida State growing up. However, Brooks spurned Tallahassee in favor of a place that he was much more familiar with.
“Everybody I know is in Virginia and it wouldn’t feel right to leave out of state,” Brooks said. “Everyone can come and see me play. If I couldn’t have my friends and family [there], it just wouldn’t feel right.”
Brooks, who was 42-1 in his four-year career, said the enticement to go to a higher profile football school like Florida State was always there. However, no amount of Seminole success could change Brooks’ mind at the last second, not even legendary coach Bobby Bowden who visited Brooks at Hylton last week.
“I wasn’t used to the [Florida State’s] environment,” Brooks said. “It’s not what I expected down there. I expected Florida State to be everything. The facilities weren’t even up to date. It wasn’t like Virginia Tech’s or Tennessee’s.”
This could wind up being a banner recruiting class for Virginia, who also on Monday received commitments from Princess Anne standout defensive lineman Kai Parham and running back Michael Johnson of Heritage. Both are Parade all-Americans and are listed as top 40 recruits in the country by ESPN.com. They are also still in the running for Warwick senior quarterback Marcus Vick, brother of Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Michael Vick. Marcus Vick is expected to announce his decision today. Potomac defensive lineman Keenan Carter has verbally committed to Virginia, as well.
Playing with players like Parham is exciting to Brooks, who talked to the Virginia Beach prospect on Sunday night.
“You always want to know who you’re going to play with because you don’t want to go to a program and not have any other players that are good,” Brooks said. “He [Parham] kind of helped my decision because I know that he’s a good player. I am going to be standing right next to him in the middle.”
Because of Brooks’ size, [6-3, 240] and speed, Brown sees him playing sooner than later at the collegiate level.
“He can physically stand up right now,” Brown said. “When we sent Tommy Thigpen to North Carolina, he was an All-American, but he weighed 205. And he had to play his freshman year and he got banged up a little bit. I think that [Brooks] he’s big enough, strong enough, fast enough, athletic enough to mix it up right now.”