Photo: Amy Sussman/AP/NFL
Florida Icon: Derrick Brooks
NFL Hall of Fame linebacker; founder, Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School charter school, Tampa; age 42
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a professional athlete. My dream was to be an insurance man. That stems from an insurance man in Pensacola. He wore the suit. He drove a nice car and he collected money, so I figured that that was a good job to have. I got the courage one day — I was probably around 10 — and I asked, ‘How can I have a job like yours?’ He told me to go to school, make good grades and go to college. That was my motivation for a good bit until I got into high school and the football coaches got hold of me.
Every encounter is an opportunity to get better. After this meeting, you and I will have gotten better because we learned something about one another.
I was raised by my stepfather. In terms of books, he had no more than a sixth-grade education. But talk about the education of life. He was an encyclopedia.
My true gift from God is the ability to give back versus the talent God gave me to play football.
In the fifth grade, I was being a class clown. I’d get through with my work and I’d be bored and I’d get into a lot of disciplinary troubles because I was bored. My dad warned me and told me if I didn’t get it together and stop being a class clown he was going to show me how to get all the laughs I wanted. I called his bluff. I didn’t think he’d have time to come to my school. Well, let’s say he caught me in the middle of one of my acts. He came in the classroom. Long story short, he took his belt off and whooped me in front of the class. I remember that story so vividly, running home crying and my mom’s home and she whoops me for running home and leaving my dad. I was hysterical, crying. Bad day. But I thank God they loved me enough to do it. No matter how successful you are, you have to learn to treat people with the respect they deserve. I had no right to disrupt a learning environment just because I was bored and selfish. I had no right to disrespect the teacher. I took that lesson to heart and I basically still use it today. I treat others how I want to be treated.
I was starting to get pretty good at baseball and football, and my dad heard me make a comment about what I did in a game. He said, ‘Son, if you toot your own horn, you make one sound, but if everybody else is tooting your horn, the sound is endless. Don’t let me hear you brag about yourself again.’
A nice pound cake and butter pecan ice cream. Those are two guilty sins I have in terms of food.
I was sold on Florida State very early in the recruiting process. When Coach Bowden came to the house to visit, he held my little sister in his lap and she fell asleep and my mom gets up to pick her up and put her to bed and Coach B’s like, ‘No, no, no. I’m gonna hold her. She’s at home.’ After that, you couldn’t tell my mom anything negative about Florida State.
Whatever my edge was, I did the best I could to maximize it.
I was looking for a partner to help me start the charter school. It was a little bit intimidating meeting Mr. (Edward) DeBartolo in a business setting. I was mulling it for a week, ‘What do I say? How do I say it?’ Just before I got ready to meet him — about 15 minutes before — I had this nice outline and I crumpled it up in my car on the way to his office. I decided to say what was in my heart. Ten minutes into the conversation, he stops me, looks and me and says, ‘Derrick, we’re in.’ All I could do was thank him. I walked outside and wept in my car. I was like, ‘Now, Lord, tell me what I’ve just done?’
I spent 17 years in Pensacola and now 25 years away from it, but Pensacola’s in my blood.
My mom was probably the athlete in our family. She was a heck of a basketball player in her day. One of my football coaches told me that she had an opportunity to perhaps play college basketball, but she was pregnant with me. She completed her high school graduation and gave birth to me all in the same semester.
I’ll always be a country boy underneath the coat and tie. I enjoy sitting on a porch, just sitting there for hours. I grew up playing dominoes. I go to Pensacola, one of the first things I do is play dominoes.
The charter school is not about the names on the building. It’s about the names in the building. When I visit, I say ‘thank you’ more than anything just because I understand how seriously I took my education in high school and how education paved my way. This is my passion. These students and teachers trust my vision, and it’s humbling. It’s pressure, but it’s humbling.
My four kids are very comfortable in their own skin, and that’s one thing I’m very proud of.
Monte Kiffin, when he was with the Bucs, taught me this: The three most dangerous words are ‘I got it’ because you never have it. You never ever have it. There’s always area for improvement. You just have to be willing to find it.
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