Brooks focused on opening charter school, helping Bucs rebound
TAMPA, Fla. -- Derrick Brooks recalled the day he told his mother about an off-the-field endeavor he planned to pursue with the same passion that's helped him become one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
Opening a high school with a rigorous curriculum to prepare students for college would be as challenging as anything the 10-time Pro Bowl selection has accomplished on the field. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star was confident he could make it a reality.
"When I first told her I was going after this, she being my mother, she warned me about having too much on my plate already," said Brooks, now 34.
"But at the same time, she knew my compassion for education. She heard me talk about it more and more and she really stepped up and challenged me. It's kind of like she went from warning me to now she wanted to make sure I was in it for the right reasons and that I was going to finish the job."
Geraldine Brooks-Mitchell, who instilled the importance of education in her son while he was growing up in Pensacola, died last month after a lengthy fight with breast cancer.
The Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, a joint venture with the family that built the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl champions, will open in August for 300 students in grades nine to 11. The 12th grade will be added to the charter school next year.
For Brooks, a high school honor student who graduated from Florida State in 3 1/2 years and later returned to earn a master's degree, it's a dream come true.
"My mother first and foremost let me know academics was ahead of athletics. I've told the story many times about getting whipped in the fifth grade and taken off the football team," said Brooks, who was appointed to FSU's board of trustees in 2003.
"That message was given to me then about it's more important how you treat people than what you do in sports. ... I remember making a 2.8 my freshman year and she threatened to take my scholarship, even though she couldn't. She was not happy with me having a C-plus average because she knew that wasn't me. That's the last time, to be honest with you, that my mother said anything to me about my grades because I got the message."
Brooks-DeBartolo's core curriculum will include advanced placement courses and dual enrollment classes students will take at Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida.
One thing the school won't have is an athletic program.
Brooks, president of the school's governing board, stressed he is interested in educating children -- not creating a sports academy.
"That's one message I want to get across to the kids," he said, adding that 15 or 20 years ago he essentially was the same person as most of the students who will attend Brooks-DeBartolo this fall.
"Just wanted to go to college and be an insurance man. Insurance men back then collected money and wore nice suits and drove a nice car. So, that's all I wanted to be. I share that with them. Obviously, the Lord's plan was bigger with me participating in the NFL."
Although Brooks has been actively involved in putting the high school together, his role will diminish in coming weeks as he begins to focus on trying to help Tampa Bay rebound from a 4-12 finish last season.
The Bucs begin a three-day mandatory mini-camp Tuesday and report to training camp on July 26.
"I've been blessed to have my priorities in order. The school opening won't be a distraction for me whatsoever. It should be an exciting time, to be honest with you," Brooks said.
The linebacker also is excited about the challenge of revamping a defense that struggled in 2006 after ranking among the NFL's best for a decade. He's healthy and senses a hunger for improvement among his teammates.
At the same time, this has been an offseason like no other for him. His mother was his biggest fan.
Brooks said Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud, whose mother died last year, has offered help. Receiver Maurice Stovall and former teammate Anthony McFarland, now with Indianapolis, also lost their mothers in 2006.
"At some point, I'll probably lean on them in dealing with the healing process," Brooks said. "Right now, I just take it day by day and really try to be there for my brother and my sisters. It's going to be tough, but we'll get through it one day at a time."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index