LB Derrick Brooks' support has helped the USF rugby team thrive
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks was named the 38th Annual Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award winner last week, it was in recognition of the outstanding dedication he has show to his team, his community and his country, in the spirit established by White.
There is, of course, no questioning Brooks' dedication to the Bay area community. His Brooks' Bunch has brought scores of kids from inner city Tampa neighborhoods to learning centers in Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Tallahassee, Florida and expanded the horizons of many lives. By and large, Brooks' community work has centered on children.
However, the 10-year NFL veteran established Derrick Brooks Charities last year and has since been looking for ways to expand the scope of his contributions. This past December he found one and on Wednesday, April 21 he was rewarded for that commitment.
In December of 2003, on the advice of a friend, Brooks began contributing to the University of South Florida men's rugby team and the Tampa Bay Titans rugby team, eventually providing enough funding for 44 jerseys, 52 pairs of shorts, numerous pairs of socks and other training necessities.
"This is actually one of the very few causes we get behind that is adult-oriented," said Brooks. "Most of our programs are built towards our youth, but this is an area that I wanted to reach out to. These guys are very grateful and hopefully they can raise the awareness of rugby in the area and perhaps get some more support. These are very good teams and hopefully, together, we can build momentum for the sport in the Tampa Bay area."
The USF Men's Rugby Team is a collegiate team that competes in the Florida Rugby Union Division II. USF finished 6th in the nation in 2003 and in the Spring of 2003 beat the 2002 Division I National Championship runners-up, Penn State. This Spring, the Bulls went 4-1, losing only to the University of Central Florida in the conference championship game.
The Tampa Bay Titans are a first year-team composed of professionals in the Tampa Bay community. The team was formed by several coaches and players who wanted to bring a championship to Tampa and build the area into the rugby capital of the South.
To Brooks, it was a new way to give back to the community that has supported him over his career. To the members of the two teams, Brooks' support has meant everything.
"With Derrick's help, these guys get to come out here without the burden of having to work an extra job or do extra things to have the financial stability to travel and look presentable," said Ruben Calles, one of the Tampa Bay Titans players. "Also, when they step on the field now they represent Derrick Brooks and what he stands for. In this community, that means a lot."
In fact, it means so much to the players on both teams that on Wednesday they hosted a special practice for Brooks and presented him with two jerseys, one from the Titans and one from the Bulls. The black and red Titans jersey featured number 7, which a rugby flanker would wear, because in the words of Calles, "(Brooks) would make one heck of a flanker." The green and gold jersey of the USF Bulls had the more typical Brooks number of 55 emblazoned on the back.
After accepting the gifts, Brooks addressed the two teams.
"My support comes from the heart and it's the result of the work that a lot of people have put in," he told them, also expressing his appreciation for the jerseys. "I believe in the team concept and wish you guys the best of luck in competition and in raising awareness. It's great to be a part of the rugby family."
After the formal presentation, the two teams took the field to give Brooks a little taste of what his support has wrought. From the gasps that escaped Brooks after some of the game's live hits, it was obvious he was impressed. The hard-hitting linebacker admitted that he had only seen the game on television before Wednesday and didn't really understand all the rules.
"I prefer to keep the pads on versus the way they do it," said Brooks with a laugh.
If you're interested in playing rugby for the Tampa Bay Titans or learning more about the sport and how you can be involved, please contact Larry Grant at (813) 417-9986 or visit www.tampabaytitans.com.
To find out how you can contribute to Derrick Brooks Charities please visit www.derrickbrookscharities.org.