HOUSTON -- Brandon Brooks is strategizing for the mob.
Well, not the mob exactly, but a mob-run garbage business trying to keep out another competitor.
"If we use intimidation, can they do it, too?" one classmate wonders.
"We are really evil," another classmate says.
"So much more fun this way," says Brooks, 26, who has squeezed his 6-foot-5, 335-pound frame into a seat that is not designed for NFL offensive linemen.
The students laugh at their own diabolical ideas, and so does their teacher who overhears part of this conversation. It's a moment of lightness in a three-hour class at the University of Houston. They eventually turn to some more legitimate/legal business ideas.
This is Organizational Behavior and Management, a course Brooks is taking this spring as he works toward getting a master's in business administration with a concentration in finance. Most of his classmates are professionals who wear suits every day. They work in offices, mostly anonymously.
Brooks is not anonymous. He tried, but on the first day of this class, his professor announced that he plays for the Texans.
He'll become a free agent next month, so Brooks' immediate future is uncertain. He doesn't know if the Texans will re-sign him, though they told him in his exit meeting that they like him. His play in the past four years will dictate what happens in free agency, and his agents will negotiate that deal. So right now he focuses on a more distant future, preparing for the career he'll have whenever he stops playing football.
"It's crazy guys will leave their financial future in the hands of a GM or coach," Brooks says after class as he drives home. "[This way] if you gave everything you got and it didn't work out, it's OK. ... If health or politics affect your career, it's OK."
Growing up in Milwaukee, Brooks watched his parents work hard and seek education. His father, Robert Brooks, had only a high school education but understood complicated engineering concepts at work. His mother, Dorothy Brooks, has a bachelor's degree and master's degree that she earned while working. She stressed the importance of her son's education and made sure he graduated from Miami (Ohio) before leaving school for the NFL.
The Texans drafted Brooks in the third round in 2012. He experienced first-hand the glitzy NFL lifestyle he'd seen on television.
On the field, though, Brooks played only 107 snaps the entire season as a backup guard.
"For the first time, stuff didn't work out," Brooks said. "You start to question, what if I can't play this game anymore?"
Seeing the business of the NFL got him thinking about how to insure himself against it.
He became the team's starting right guard in 2013, keeping in mind that football careers end while players are still relatively young. The oldest offensive linemen to play in the NFL in 2015 were only 34 years old. And his mother never stopped asking when he was planning to start classes.
"A lot of people even at work say, 'Why does he need to get his master's? Why does he need to go to school?' " said Dorothy Brooks, who earned her MBA while her son was in high school. "You're kidding me, right? You need to have a backup plan."
With the NFL footing most of the bill, Brooks considered medical school or law school, but the time those degrees would take deterred him given how late he'd be starting. Plus, he loved numbers and understanding finances.
"It's like being a magician," Brooks said. "You can turn a dollar into two."
In 2014, Brooks started a masters in finance at St. Thomas University in Houston. He asked Texans director of player engagement Sean Washington for help contacting some financial firms for internship opportunities. Football was an icebreaker when he contacted companies.
That spring he landed an internship at Amegy Bank, where he couldn't fit into some of the office chairs because the handles were too close together. Suzette Jones, an executive vice president at Amegy Bank, became a mentor he spoke with regularly. She saw a smart young man (the same age as her son) who wanted to know more about investments and managing money.
"I think [his NFL career] opens any door," Jones said. "It opens any door. Whether you actually get to go through the door is another question. And that's where the résumé-building is so important."
In the 2015 offseason, Brooks made time for two internships, one at Morgan Stanley.
"He was doing an analyst role," said Mark McAdams, a private wealth adviser and senior vice president at Morgan Stanley. "So he was evaluating money managers and doing spreadsheets, lot of spreadsheet work, providing us data on a day-to-day basis to make investment decisions. ...
"It's pretty impressive, somebody who's a starter with the Texans [doing] an internship. I can't imagine there's a lot of those guys doing that."
Brooks didn't pursue an internship this offseason in case another team signs him and he has to leave Houston. He already has discussed a plan with his teachers in case he has to move while classes are in session.
Last month he transferred to the University of Houston, where his academic adviser helps him schedule classes to fit his unique situation. The administrators at the school know him well. One has a 5-year-old daughter, brought up as a Texans fan, who asked if Brooks was J.J. Watt's friend.
Brooks says he would have time to take classes during the season, but he doesn't want to appear as if he isn't dedicated to football.
He's taking three courses this session -- a finance class, the management class and accounting, his hardest class. He works out in the mornings at a local gym, then does homework until it's time to leave for class around 5 p.m.
In a football meeting room, Brooks innately understands the material. He has been playing football since he was 12. The words make sense. The concepts are familiar.
In these classes, he takes copious notes and regularly visits his professors during office hours with questions.
Last Monday, his finance class reviewed formulas for determining the value of money over time. His professor, a Brazilian woman named Natalia Pequeira, apologized for the technical nature of the class, but noted students needed to know it for future exams.
Brooks wrote down the formulas next to the PowerPoint presentation he printed before coming to class as a woman a few seats away began to fall asleep.
Tuesday was Organizational Behavior and Management, where his group determined strategies a mob-affiliated waste management company could use. He sits in the back of this class, not to avoid participation, but because he's too big to be comfortable in the seats below, and here the air conditioning blows right on him.
His professor, Dale Rude, didn't know Brooks was a Texans player by name. But each student had to submit a "problem puzzle," a real-life situation from their workplace, before class started. Brooks' submission asked how he should talk to a younger player about concussions.
"Brandon's going to do really good things," Rude said.
Rude has taught one other NFL player: Kevin Donnalley, a former Houston Oiler. Donnalley's problem puzzle asked how the team should handle the defensive coordinator taking a swing at the offensive coordinator on the sideline during a game.
On Wednesday, Brooks goes to accounting, where the class reviews financial reports from various companies. He parks his car in the garage, crosses the street and climbs steps that advertise a career fair in blue chalk. That's another thing Brooks won't touch right now for fear of giving the wrong impression about his current priorities.
Brooks' plan after he retires from football is to become an investment banker for about a decade. After that he'd like to teach for another decade.
"A lot of things are out of your control in the NFL," Brooks said. "... One thing I can control is my education and how hard I work at that."
He likes change, and he likes options. Earning an MBA will offer that, but it's only the start of his ambition.