- Feb 2, 2006
- Reaction score
Some thoughts from Brooks...
Learning how to play a grown-up game
Players who've made it to the NFL give high school hopefuls tips on how to follow in their footsteps.
BY MELINDA WALDROP
July 16, 2006
NEWPORT NEWS -- It wasn't that long ago that Aaron Brooks was on the other side of the stage.
"I remember what it's like," Brooks said Saturday at the Peninsula all-star football camp. "Some of the guys have doubts, what they're gonna do, if they're gonna make it in the big leagues or in college. But they can't worry about that. They're young. They just gotta play the best they can and accept it how it comes."
Prep football players from throughout Virginia were after that kind of wisdom as they listened to Brooks, a Newport News native in his eighth NFL season, and 12 other pro or college stars describe how they went from hyped high school recruits to next-level standouts.
Brooks said his biggest challenge in college was preparing himself to succeed even if he couldn't play football for a living - a process that required him to take five semesters of Spanish at Virginia. Kwamie Lassiter, a former San Diego Chargers free safety and a Menchville High graduate, told a player wondering how to get his name in print to "keep working hard. Somebody is always watching you."
Morocco Brown, an ex-linebacker at Kecoughtan High, detailed a path to success that detoured from its expected route. When he didn't catch on in the NFL out of N.C. State, Brown came back to Hampton to work in a bank, but his heart was still in the game.
His path back to it included an internship in Indianapolis, where he once sodded the RCA Dome field alongside "people on work release," he said. He's now assistant director of pro personnel for the Chicago Bears.
"Chase your dreams," he said. "Do what you want to do."
After a question-and-answer session directed by Hampton native Carl Francis, director of communication for the NFL players union and architect of the free camp, players surrounded Brooks as he sat on the stage at Christopher Newport's Gaines Theater. Brooks, now a quarterback in Oakland after six seasons in New Orleans, signed T-shirts, footballs and shoes, laughing when a Lakeland High player asked where he was from.
"Newport News, 16th Street, born and raised," said Brooks, who starred at now-closed Ferguson High School before realizing he had to sharpen his on-field focus at U.Va.
"It's about discipline," said Brooks, who led the Cavaliers to a 9-2 record in his senior season. "You gotta have that discipline, you gotta have patience, and you gotta have understanding to be able to achieve those things. A lot of kids don't have patience. They think something's supposed to come to them because they were the man in high school, (but) there's nothing given to you."
Brian Mitchell, who spent 10 of his 15 NFL seasons as a kick returner and running back with the Washington Redskins, had to learn to motivate himself in college at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, beginning with setting his own alarm clock.
"When you're in high school, you have Mom and Dad always guiding you and telling you what to do, when to get up and stuff like that," Mitchell said. " ... You have to grow up. You have to become more of a man."
Shaun Gayle, a Newport News native whose 12-year pro career at defensive back included a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Chicago Bears, concentrated on avoiding distractions such as girlfriends and less-driven friends when he went from Bethel High to Ohio State.
"On all levels, it takes a certain type of individual (to succeed), and I don't think it's anything that special," Gayle said. "They just have to have aspirations to do more than what's common."
With the Raiders, Brooks hopes to team up with former Hampton High star Ronald Curry, a wide receiver who is rehabbing last season's torn Achilles tendon. "Getting the chance to throw the ball to Ronald on any given Sunday, that's gonna be nice," Brooks said. "I think everybody from our hometown is gonna really enjoy seeing it happen, especially when we hook up for the first touchdown." ... Brooks will also have the services of one of the game's most talented - and controversial - wideouts at his disposal in Randy Moss. "He's just a guy that wants to win," Brooks said. " ... We feel like we're gonna do some big damage."