By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Watching film after a game early this season, Bluefield College head coach Mike Gravier noticed No. 21 all over the field on defense.
His aren’t the only eyes Frank Brooks is catching.
“I want to make plays,” Brooks said.
He’s doing just that, having gone from not playing in the opener with Pikeville to earning a starting spot at free safety, and is also a big play return specialist on kick and punt returns.
“I just wanted to come in and make an impact,” Brooks said. “I was always taught to always hustle, always get to the ball and stuff like that.
“It has been a lot of fun doing that, hopefully we will get a win.”
Brooks and the Rams will try to do that on Saturday when Bluefield (0-8, 0-3) hosts Lindsey Wilson (2-6, 0-3) for homecoming at Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
“We are pumped,” said the soft-spoken Brooks. “We are excited for this game.”
A 5-foot-10, 160-pound freshman from Newport News, Va., Brooks was a standout cornerback and kick returner at Heritage High School. He recorded 40 tackles, one interception and five touchdowns as a senior, and had 40 tackles and four picks as a junior for the Hurricanes.
Brooks stuck to just football, having decided not to stick with another sport that a player with his speed might try.
“I played (football) since I was about 5 and I have always loved it,” Brooks said. “I tried to run track, but it wasn’t for me...
“That was one of my main goals growing up was the play college football.”
He considered the walk-on path at Virginia State or Norfolk State, but when Bluefield defensive coordinator Stacey Hairston visited his school, he had a new choice to make.
“Coach Hairston came to my school, introduced me to Bluefield College and here I am,” Brooks said. “I came here and I liked the visit.”
Brooks admitted the possibility of playing right away for a new program was intriguing, and he was willing to move from cornerback to free safety.
“I played corner in high school, it is not a big difference, not at all,” Brooks said. “The biggest adjustment at safety is you make a lot more tackles than at corner.”
He also had the opportunity to be coached by Hairston, who like Bluefield offensive line coach Mike Compton, played in the NFL.
“It has been a lot of fun working with Coach Hairston,” Brooks said. “He is tough on you, but he likes to have a lot of fun.”
Upon his arrival, Brooks quickly began to make friends, having been acquainted with just one member of the team prior to arriving at Bluefield.
“You have to make friends, but it didn’t take very long,” Brooks said. “Football players, they bond.”
Brooks didn’t play against Pikeville, but started to open eyes in the third game at Kentucky Christian, recording two tackles, including one for a 17-yard loss.
He burst onto the scene the following week against Faulkner, collecting 10 tackles, including two for loss. He’s been a mainstay ever since, having recorded 36 tackles, including four for loss and one sack for the Rams.
“It is my job,” said Brooks, who hits hard despite his lack of size. “Nobody has really tried to run me over, but it is my job to make a lot of tackles.”
Gravier has been pleased with the progress made by Brooks, who first caught his eye watching film of the loss to Faulkner.
“Frank has probably been our most consistent defensive player,” Gravier said. “He works hard, he’s not big, but he will come up and hit you, and he plays hard all the time.
“He has just been a steady player for us the last several games.”
Brooks has also been steady on returns, including a 50-yard punt return against UVa-Wise, which was a big play at that point in the game. He has also returned 12 kicks for an 18.7 yard average, including long runs of 43, 34 and 23 yards.
“I enjoy that a lot, I have always been a punt returner,” Brooks said.
He calls the punt return against UVa-Wise as the highlight of his season, but is looking to top it against the Lindsey Wilson passing attack this week.
“Other than that (return) I have been making a lot of tackles,” Brooks said. “I would like to have one interception, but it is going to come.”
What the education major would really like is a win. Bluefield is 0-8 and still looking for its first win since the program was disbanded in 1941.
“It is frustrating, but I know we are young,” Brooks said. “We are young team and it is going to come. We are going to be good in the future
“We are just going through reality. We are young team, we are going to get better.”
Bluefield has been in games in the opening half, but tend to start slow after the break and then have to play catch-up from that point.
“We come out flat in the second half,” he said. “We have to come out energized and just get pumped up after halftime.”
While Brooks has adjusted well to juggling football and academics, he is still getting used to life in a small town, after having lived more of the big city life in Newport News.
“It was hard for me to leave home,” said Brooks, who would like to be a teacher and coach. “It has taken a while to get used to that and I am still getting used to it. It is different, it is a lot different from where I am from.”
As for fun in Bluefield, Brooks and his friends manage to stay busy.
“We go to the Mercer Mall (or) stay in the room and play video games, that is about it,” said Brooks, with a laugh.
Once the football season ends, and the Rams have three games left to go, Brooks said that is when the work will begin to get better for 2013. The opportunity to work out in the weight room and get better physically hasn’t been there as often as he would like.
“Not as much as we want to, but in the offseason we are going to get busy,” Brooks said. “Get bigger and faster,”
Despite the struggles of the team this season, Brooks is excited about Bluefield College football, and thinks the community feels much the same.
“We are going to be talented, we are going to be good,” Brooks said. “This year we were in a lot of ball games, but because we are young, it has taken a toll on us...I think they are excited about football here.”
Meanwhile, Brooks will do what he has done since arriving in Bluefield, doing what he says is his job for the Rams to have success on Saturday against the Blue Raiders.
“Just be disciplined and make tackles,” he said.
Now that is how you catch the eyes of a football coach.
—Contact Brian Woodson