Brooks' Bunch students Tywania Daniels and Kristin Lundy joke with Derrick Brooks about his days at FSU
Florida State University, says Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, "is where I turned from a boy into a man."
On Monday, that man took 29 middle and high school boys and girls on a tour of his alma mater as part of the 11-day Brooks' Bunch 2003 and Beyond journey. The visit to FSU began with a bus tour and ended with lunch at the Seminole Grill; in between, the students learned about the history and present prosperity of the university.
As their bus wound around the campus, the students were lectured on Florida State's history, how it had evolved from an all-male seminary to an all-women's college and then to a co-educational institution after World War II. They were also given insight on the history of the school's buildings and many of the traditions on the Tallahassee campus.
The campus tour ended at Doak Campbell Stadium in front of the Sportsmanship Statue. Awaiting the Brooks' Bunch arrival were John Latta, the coordinator of athletic student services, and current Seminole star running back Greg Jones. Latta and Jones gave the students a behind-the-scenes look at Doak Campbell Stadium and the FSU athletic department.
Latta spoke to the group about the construction going on at the school. Doak Campbell is undergoing a major reconstruction that encompasses not only changes to the stands and athletic offices but also an entire renovation of the playing surface.
Jones then outlined his typical day for the visiting students, who seemed astonished by the player's schedule. Perhaps they expected something a little more glamorous and a little less strenuous than: wake up at 5:30 a.m., workout, go to study hall, go to class, go to practice, eat, go to bed.
Jones did have some advice that the students readily accepted. "Learn how to prioritize your time and always work hard," he said. "And make sure at the end of the day you have no regrets."
The newly-renovated FSU football locker room, next on the tour, brought to mind one word: plush. Soft carpeting and large wooden lockers adorned the room, with retired jerseys lining the ends of the rows along with pictures of the school's All-Americans and Heisman Trophy winners. The students took a particular interest in one retired jersey: #10. That was Brooks' own.
"It was great to see where Derrick went to school," said 15 year-old Delilha Adino. "It showed me that I can make it and succeed, if I work hard enough and put in the time and effort."
Brooks told the students some football stories, then herded them into the defensive backs meeting room to visit with Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews. Andrews relayed the story of how he and the FSU staff initially wanted to move Brooks into the secondary because they thought he might be too small to be a linebacker. However, said Andrews, Brooks put in the time and effort in the weight room to get bigger and stronger and ready to compete at his preferred position.
"Success is all about getting an opportunity and being ready when it comes," said the 19-year FSU veteran coach. "But you have to be willing to work hard to prepare before that opportunity comes, because if you don't it will pass you by."
A film of FSU highlights was next, followed by a visit to Head Coach Bobby Bowden's office, where the scholars had the chance to see all the ACC, Bowl Game and National Championship rings the Seminoles have won over the past 17 years.
During lunch at the Seminole Grill, the students were introduced to Katherine Nerona-Balog, who informed them about the academic opportunities available at Florida State. Nerona-Balog fielded numerous questions from the students and chaperones about the different programs and admission requirements.
"It was cool," said 14 year-old Nikki Gallon of the time on campus. "Derrick's such a pro now, and we had the chance to see where he got his start and that was pretty special."
After lunch, the students left campus and headed to the FSU reservation for an afternoon of team-building and outdoor activities. Since the majority of the trip's events had been indoors for the first eight days, Brooks believed a day of sun and fun would be just what the doctor ordered…and it was.
Dividing into three teams, the students spent the first few hours working on team activities before being set free to canoe, kayak, swim or play volleyball. Other activities included ball-tossing games, rope-swinging, rock-climbing, man-overboard and tag.
"I enjoyed that," said Adino. "It was so much fun. I really liked canoeing and kayaking. The team building games were cool and we made our way through all of them. It took some time, but we made it."
There were some funny mishaps, like Mario Lawrence and James Jolly tipping over their canoe about two feet from shore (note to readers: never attempt to stand in a canoe), but overall the day was a carefree adventure for the students that taught them about teamwork while also allowing them to enjoy themselves.
"At first I thought it was going to be a bunch of silly stuff for little kids, but it was fun" said Gallon. "Tubing out on the lake with A.J. (Ponds) and Rosie (Odom) was my favorite part."
The traveling party ate dinner at one of Brooks' favorite restaurants in Tallahassee, Po' Boys Creole Café (which, to Brooks' delight, just opened a new restaurant at 302 S. Howard in Tampa).
The meal was the day's last scheduled event, but as the students had a special treat waiting for their leader back at Bryan Hall, their dormitory during the stay on campus. The Brooks' Bunch had decided Monday would be "Derrick Brooks Appreciation Night" and, as such, several of the students read heartfelt messages about the Buccaneer and what his program meant to them.
The messages were personal and a family matter between Brooks and the kids, but suffice it to say a few tears were shed and some memories were made for a lifetime.
"I had a card that expressed how I felt, because it was hard for me to tell him," said Adino. "I used the card and wrote him a little note. I just wanted to tell him thank you and let him know how much I appreciate coming on the trip and experiencing all these new things."
Brooks absorbed all of the kind words and had something of his own to say to the students, letting them know that the mentor gets as much out of the relationship as the pupil.
"I want to be a part of your world," said Brooks. "And I hope that you'll be a part of my world, because that's what this is all about, sharing experiences together."
Stay tuned for the final two days of Brooks' Bunch and Beyond 2003, when the students visit Florida A&M University and go horseback riding.