Many dreams came true over the course of the weekend as the 2020 NFL Draft concluded. While no dream can be accomplished without the requirements of hard work and perseverance, some prospects have truly had to fight for their dreams. Make no mistake about it, Antoine Brooks Jr., the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sixth round selection, has had to fight for his dreams.
Nearly five years ago, the NFL Draft seemed far from reality for the former Maryland safety. In fact, playing football did not even seem to be in his plans as he contemplated his future after suffering a devastating injury in high school that saw him suffer compound fractures to his leg and wrist.
“When I was hurt, I was laying on the ground, I told my mom I won’t play anymore. I kind of asked her, ‘Mom, do I have to play football again?’ She said, ‘No, you don’t have to.’ I’m sitting there, leg broken, wrist broken. My heart dropped,” Brooks told NBC Sports.
Brooks quickly changed his mind and eventually committed to Maryland. After recovering from his gruesome injuries, the safety had another chance to chase his dreams. This time though he would tackle them head on.
After originally arriving to Maryland as a linebacker, Brooks transitioned to the secondary in 2017 and the move saw him become one of the Big Ten’s most consistent tacklers. Being a former linebacker, tackling has always been important to him and it was a trait instilled on him by his father.
“It’s not that I don’t need help, but in football, tackling’s the most important thing. (My father) was always on me about tackling. He never liked me missing tackles, and if I did, he’d be mad,” Brooks told Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.
Since then, Brooks has continuously been one of the Big Ten’s conferences top tacklers. These tackles typically are not the easy kind either. Brooks is not the guy cleaning up the pile or chipping in late, he is doing it all on his own.
In his senior year, Brooks led the Big Ten conference in solo tackles with 69 solo tackles in just 12 games. Despite suffering a serious injury many years ago, the former Maryland safety showed no fear as he jumped at the opportunity to go one on one with ball carriers.
In 2018, he made an impact in the backfield, leading Maryland with 9.5 tackles for a loss. As a sophomore in 2017, he led all Big Ten defensive backs in tackles for a loss while also leading the team in solo tackles.
Brooks’ impressive and fearless tackling ability leaves an open imagination as to how the Steelers will utilize him. While Kevin Colbert acknowledged that Brooks will be a safety in their defense, he did call him half linebacker, half safety and left open the possibility of him playing in certain sub packages.
“He played in a unique position at the University of Maryland that’s really relevant to today’s NFL and college football. He’s half a linebacker, he’s half a safety. He will be a safety in our defense with the ability to play in packages, because that’s what he’s done and he’s done well. He’s very versatile,” Colbert said.
Tackling has always been a part of Brooks’ life and now he will have a chance to tackle his goals head on as a member of the Steelers’ organization.