When Maryland football’s summer practices started in June, Antoine Brooks didn’t have the name recognition he enjoyed as a star at DuVal High School. With the Terps’ coaches, he’d have to make a name for himself.
“At first, the strength and conditioning coaches, I guess they didn’t know who I was, so I had to show them in practice,” Brooks told Testudo Times in an interview this week. “Hitting, hustling all the time. That’s what they like. They like to see us run and hustle.
“I know I’m young — they know I’m young — but I ain’t young on the field. That’s what I show them.”
So far, that’s exactly what has caught DJ Durkin’s attention. Brooks was a player Maryland’s head coach singled out at the team’s media day on Tuesday when asked about the freshman class.
“There’s certain things you don’t have to teach guys. That guy was born and made to be a football player,” Durkin said. “Before his injury in high school, I think people will tell you he was, if not the best, then one of the best players in the whole area.”
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Brooks verbally committed to Maryland on Feb. 1, just two days before National Signing Day. Brooks was somewhat of an afterthought in Maryland’s recruiting scene after suffering a scarring injury his senior year. There were times, he says, he didn’t think he was even going to play football anymore.
Brooks was playing quarterback for DuVal (in Lanham, Md.) in an October tilt against rival Wise. While throwing an interception, his ankle bent in a direction ankles aren’t supposed to bend. Brooks suffered a compound fracture, and the whole crowd watched silently as play stopped for 45 minutes.
He was immediately taken to the hospital, and after surgery the next day, Brooks would start months of hard rehab. He was home-schooled for a while to hasten his recovery, further separating him from normalcy.
Brooks received scholarship offers from Pitt, Indiana and a host of Group of 5 schools, but didn’t hear from Maryland until late in his recruitment. Shortly before National Siging Day, DJ Durkin came in and offered him the chance to stay in Prince George’s County and come to Maryland. Brooks accepted.
“I call him ‘Mr. Cool.’ That’s my man,” Brooks said. “I’m happy he’s my head coach. I wouldn’t ask for a better one. He’s trying to change the program around, and I’m with him 100 percent.”
Durkin stated in his introductory press conference his intentions on recruiting the DMV hard. Brooks represents another step in that campaign.
“I think he has the respect of everyone in this area,” Durkin said. “A huge part of bringing in Antoine was that. Antoine is us. He’s from our backyard, and we’re sure going to do right by the kids in our backyard.”
Brooks seemed to be a perfect candidate to redshirt his freshman season. A gruesome injury combined with learning a new position — he mostly played quarterback and defensive back during high school — usually suggests a need to take it slow.
But Brooks received no such inclinations from the coaching staff.
“I thought I was going to redshirt, but they said, ‘Nah, I want you to play, they need me,’” he said. “I’m excited. I’m very happy that I’m playing. I’m getting used to the coaching staff. They bring me energy.”
Summer and fall practices have been tough, especially for a player less than a year removed from a grisly injury. Brooks has been on campus since June 19, and like the rest of the team, has been at the mercy of some brutal workouts from strength coach Rick Court. Brooks said he’s even thrown up during practice, but he’s far from the only player to do so. In a relatively short time with the program, Court’s made a mark.
“Oh yeah, he’s changing our bodies,” Brooks says. “He changed my body in, probably, a month. I progressed. I got a chest now, for real. Biceps got bigger.”
The DuVal product has let his personality shine through in his brief time at Maryland. He’s energetic and he isn’t shy, something his teammates and coaches have taken notice of. That can be a boon when the team is practicing during 90-degree heat.
“Some freshmen come in and they’re scared to say two words. That’s not Antoine’s style at all. He lights up the room,” said linebackers coach Matt Barnes. “The older guys like him a lot, because again he has just such a great sense of humor and he never takes himself too seriously. He keeps it light in there, and I think we’re all appreciative of that.”
If Brooks does get to play in a game this season, it’ll be his first in almost a year. His last high school game was Oct. 12, 2015. Things will probably get emotional.
“That’s a long time. When I first get there, my mom might cry, pops might cry, family might cry. Because they know I was hurt,” Brooks said. “I probably said ‘I ain’t want to play football anymore.’ But being here with Coach Durkin and them taking care of me with their training staff, it’s awesome, so I’m happy I’m here.”