Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Derrick Brooks in the Wild, Wild West

The Bucs linebacker and his Brooks Bunch’ near the end of their tour of the West Coast

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Whether on the field with the Bucs' defense or in the Wild West with his Brooks' Bunch, Derrick Brooks is the unquestioned leader

By Aaron Boulding of NFLUTH

If his competition wants to know where Derrick Brooks gets his edge on the playing field they may want to move to Tampa and sign up for the All-Pro linebacker's Brooks' Bunch program. If they did, they'd see how Brooks keeps his mind sharp and his spirit fulfilled by directly enhancing the lives of Tampa area kids. They'd see his personal involvement --from dropping by the Boys & Girls Clubs around Tampa to making sure the kids pay attention and keep journals during field tours-- in his Brooks' Bunch program and they'd realize that dedication and sense of purpose are his secret weapons.

Derrick Brooks oversees and guides his Brooks' Bunch program the same way number 55 oversees and dominates opposing offenses on Sundays. In both cases, it's his personal endeavor and nothing goes down on his watch without his approval. For NFL running backs and receivers that's bad news, but it means a tremendous opportunity for a group of 27 kids selected to tour the western United States as part of the 2001 Brooks' Bunch program.

And that possessive "s" can't be overstated. This is his program

"The teachers and I get together and decide on what material will be necessary," explained the Pensacola, Florida, native. "We basically come up with a list of things that the kids should know by the time the course work is complete."

And you can't tell Brooks much about education that he doesn't already know. He finished high school as an A student, finished his coursework months before he was scheduled to graduate from Florida State and earned a Master's Degree after he started his NFL career.

And the students themselves are well aware of how lucky they are to have such an opportunity but they're even more appreciative of Derrick Brooks' presence and the personal role he plays in the program.

"If you need him to be a friend, he's a friend. If you need him to be a kid, he's a kid and when you need him to be an adult, he's an adult," explains 17 year-old De' Nedra Nieves.

The California Gold Rush, African-American cowboys and the travels of Lewis & Clark were lessons learned during this year's Wild Wild West theme. The grand finale of the program has Brooks, a crew of chaperones and those 27 teens actually visiting several of the places they've studied in the classroom. The tour kicked off on July 7 and has already made stops at the Hoover Dam -- which included a side trip to Las Vegas -- and Los Angeles -- which included a stop at Keyshawn Johnson's restaurant to see the host himself.

Everything will wind up by July 18 when the no-doubt exhausted crew heads back to Tampa. When NFL Under the Helmet caught up with Brooks and his bunch at Alcatraz Island, the wear and tear of life on the road was showing on everybody's face. But there was Brooks shepherding all of the kids in BB jackets and backpacks around the former prison turned tourist attraction. He wants everybody to have fun and enjoy themselves, but as far as he's concerned the learning, the education is going to continue.

NFLUTH: It's obvious the kids are getting a lot out of the experience, but what have you yourself learned on this tour of the western U.S.?

DB: I've learned a lot about Alcatraz right here. I thought Alcatraz was just a prison, that the island was only for the prison. I didn't know people lived here. You know, all of the guards and their families stayed here on the island along with all of the animals. They've got all of the native birds and other animals on this island. All of the other islands out here that surround Alcatraz, I didn't know about them either. But it's educational to hear the stories from actual inmates. That's always neat.

But at the same time, the kids feel sorry for the inmates. I have to remind them that, you know, these were some bad dudes. I mean, they are human, but still…I guess a lot of the kids feel that way because of our experience at Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) last year. They saw how Mandela, his political movement, and a lot of those men, were treated as less than human. A lot of the kids were remembering that when we got here today. I wanted them to see those guys were heroes, like they were good prisoners, good citizens. Whereas these people out here (at Alcatraz) were hardened criminals.

NFLUTH: You've made stops in Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon, you're in San Francisco right now, and you're going to head on to Reno and Portland before it's over. Which stop has been your favorite so far?

DB: I try not to pick a favorite because I don't want to take away from the trip. I don't even really look at it like that. I just take each experience as it comes. I'm just very grateful for the opportunity that the Lord has given me to help these kids.

NFLUTH: The whole Brooks Bunch concept seem pretty sophisticated with the series of classes and now this two-week tour. How did this program become so deep?

DB: I'm big on incentive programs, but I wanted it to be so much more than that. Actually, there was one lady that was with us five years ago. She didn't even know what an airplane was. So we took a quick educational day trip down to Fort Lauderdale and then it kind of hit me. What if we study an area or study a person and then go see where they live? So Martin Luther King and visiting the King Center was actually the first to follow that model. I've just been having fun with it very year.

NFLUTH: In preparing for your trip to The Rock today, did you watch any of the famous movies associated with Alcatraz?

DB: I did. I watched both "The Rock" and the classic "Escape from Alcatraz." I guess that really got me and the kids kind of intrigued about coming here today. It showed the kids that those movies are kind of based on the mystery about this place.

NFLUTH: Not that you would ever end up in a place like Alcatraz, but now that you've seen it, how would you escape from The Rock?

DB: It would probably be a lot easier now that this place is deteriorating. I could see how those guys used their wits and their knowledge to get out of here. I mean, digging your way out, that's the only way you'd be able to get out.

I mean, that way it happened it's kind of sad because the story never really had an ending. I can't believe that one of those guys isn't still out here. I'd hate to say he didn't make it, but they never found the body.

NFLUTH: How important is it for you to actually be here on the trip with the kids? You could've easily just stayed at home and signed the check for this thing.

DB: One of the unique things about my program is, hey, I'm hands on. I don't feel the program would be as effective as you want it to be if you don't invest the time. I'm not just going to invest any amount of money if I'm not going to put the time into it. I think that's what sets me apart from a lot of other player programs.

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