By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2000
TAMPA -- Midway through Derrick Brooks' freshman season at Florida State in 1991, the most innocuous of acts changed the direction of his career forever:
He stepped on a scale.
"I was a linebacker my whole high school career," said Brooks, who parlayed speed and relentless pursuit into national acclaim as a senior at Pensacola Washington High. "But I started out (at FSU) as a safety because I was only 180 pounds."
Only Miami recruited him as a linebacker. The coaches were adamant he would excel at that position. Brooks now believes FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews also knew from the start where he would play. And it wasn't in the secondary.
Brooks, who along with running back Marquette Smith were the only true freshmen to play in 1991, filled a linebacker's role in FSU's nickel package.
"I noticed him as a 10th grader, this little bitty rascal who couldn't have weighed more than 160 pounds, all over the field making plays," Andrews said. "You could tell he was just a natural linebacker."
Yet during the recruiting process in early '91, he warned Brooks that if the player didn't fill out, he probably wouldn't have a chance in the NFL as a linebacker. Prudence suggested trying safety.
"I kid coach Andrews every time I see him that that was their recruiting ploy," Brooks said. "He sold me on playing a DB just to get me there, and then when I gained weight, he'd move me to linebacker. I didn't know I was going to gain weight. But they knew it."
Everyone knew it after a routine weigh-in.
By midseason, Brooks carried 205 pounds on his chiseled 6-foot-1 frame.
"(Andrews) basically told me to stay at linebacker and don't worry about coming back to DB," Brooks said.
"The rest," Andrews said, "is history."
No longer did Brooks have to worry about dropping back in coverage, an act that flew in the face of his natural instincts. Good thing. He, like so many other freshmen, spent the season adjusting to something that felt far stranger.
Brooks said that being away from home for the first time was a bit "overwhelming." But playing helped give him a sense of belonging and, to his chagrin, a sense of longing. His most poignant memory from '91is the last-second missed field goal in FSU's 17-16 loss to archrival Miami in November, the Seminoles' first loss that season.
"I was disappointed we hadn't won the national championship," he said. "But I was also excited because I was going to get a chance at a starting position the following year."
At linebacker, where he would scale new heights.
Q: What else sticks out from your freshman year?
A: Our off-season program. No one told me about that when I was being recruited. We had 5 o'clock (in the morning) workouts that were, quote, unquote, voluntary workouts.
Q: If you could go back to 1991 and tell yourself something, what would it be?
A: I would say, first off, walk with God. That was always there (for me), but do it a little more consistently. Secondly, educate yourself not just about financial things. You can never know too much. I've learned that very well. But it would be hard to go back and say I want to change this or change that because the things I went through helped me become a better person. I'm just thankful for football because it opened windows of opportunity that I don't think I'd ever experience otherwise.
Jan. 27, 1991
Giants 20, Bills 19
MVP: Ottis Anderson, Giants running back (21 carries for 102 yards and one touchdown).
IN THE NEWS: Jan. 25: The United States and its allies go to war against Iraq. April 3: A cease-fire ends the Persian Gulf War; U.N. forces win. June 5: The South African Parliament repeals apartheid laws. July 10: Boris Yeltsin is inaugurated as the first freely elected president of the Russian Republic. Dec. 25: The Soviet Union breaks up after President Gorbachev's resignation; constituent republics form the Commonwealth of Independent States.
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