Reggie Brooks burst onto the scene at Notre Dame, switching from defensive back to running back in 1992 with great success. He once scored a touchdown while unconscious after fighting his way through six Michigan tacklers, a play that took its rightful place in Fighting Irish lore. Brooks then found more immediate success in the NFL in 1993 as a rookie running back for the Washington Redskins, racking up 1,063 yards in his first pro season.
Brooks was born in Tulsa, Okla., on Jan. 19, 1971. He played football at Booker T. Washington High School, and was originally set on staying local and playing football for Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. Instead, he followed in older brother Tony’s footsteps and played football for Notre Dame. He currently resides in South Bend, Ind., with his wife and five children ages 21, 17, 14, 8 and 1.
Q: Why did you decide on accepting a football scholarship from Notre Dame?
A: “I was very interested in playing for either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, but by the time I got to be a senior in high school both of their programs were on probation. There were three other schools on my short list, USC, Miami and Notre Dame, but several factors caused me to lean towards Notre Dame. The biggest was the fact that Notre Dame had just won the national title. Also, the fact that my brother was already at Notre Dame and I had been there several times to visit him and had gotten to know his teammates. That really pulled me in.”
“My brother was supposed to be my host when I made my official recruiting visit to Notre Dame, but I actually only saw him once that weekend. Since I already knew my way around campus, and knew most of the guys, I ended up being my own host that weekend, and spent time showing Dorsey Levens and Adrian Jarrell around. There was one thing that they really fooled me on during my recruiting weekend. They wined and dined us that weekend on all of this fabulous food, and then when I got to school they stuck us with this awful dining hall food. They tricked me for sure.”
Q: What was it like playing with your brother at Notre Dame?
A: “Being in my brother’s shadow was not really much of a challenge for me. I already felt like all of the upperclassmen on the team were my big brothers, so me playing behind Tony did not put any additional pressure on me. Also, when I started at Notre Dame I played defensive back, not running back, so we were not in direct competition. When I made the switch from defensive back to running back, I had already learned so much from my brother and guys like Ricky Watters and Anthony Johnson that I already knew what was required of me to play at that level. They helped make the transition easier for me.”
Q: What is your favorite Notre Dame football memory?
A: “This is not really a football memory per se, but this moment definitely left a big impact on me. It happened during the the Notre Dame-Penn State “Snow Bowl” game, and it was not “The Catch.” It was very cold during that game and I was freezing my butt off. Offensive lineman Aaron Taylor came over to me, out of the blue, and gave me the biggest bear hug to warm me up as I was standing there shivering. I didn’t ask him to, he just did it. That reinforced to me that we were more than just teammates. We were family. We looked out for one another. That was a great moment. It left a lasting and special place in my heart.”
Q: Speaking of the “Snow Bowl” game, why did Coach Holtz decide to run the two-point conversion at the end of the game?
A: “We always practiced the two-point conversion in practice. It was nothing new to us. Holtz had us on the sideline, told us what the formation was, and we never had any doubt in our mind that we could successfully run the play. The funny thing about that play was I was not even the intended receiver. Irv Smith was supposed to run a pivot route and I was supposed to distract the safety so that he could make the catch. We had never practiced this particular formation before, we just knew that we needed to go out and execute it. We had so much confidence in ourselves. Aaron Taylor likes to say that he was the reason I caught the pass because he missed the block that caused Rick Mirer to have to roll right and throw to me.”
Notre Dame – Penn State “Snow Bowl” game 1992
Q: How much to you actually remember from the six tackles-broken touchdown run against Michigan?
A: “I am not really sure how much of the play I was actually conscious for, because I do not remember any of the play at all. The head trainer came out to me with smelling salts, and when I came to the entire left side of my body was numb. They took me over to the sideline, told me to shake it off and get back out there and play. The media was asking me about the play at the postgame press conference, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Not until I watched the film the next day did I get a chance to see the run. After watching the play I thought to myself, ‘Man, that was a great play!’”
Notre Dame – Michigan game 1992
Q: What do you think about the current state of Notre Dame football?
A: “Until we have a legitimate quarterback to run our offense, we are going to struggle. Having a green quarterback is a big challenge. Having a quarterback who can implement the running threat is a key aspect of (Coach Brian) Kelly’s offense. If one of our young quarterbacks can step up and thrive in Kelly’s pass/run offense, we may just be able to turn the corner. The first three or four games of the season will really set the tone for the year. If we would have won the first two games of last season, it could have been much different year for Notre Dame.”
Q: How do you remember the day you were drafted by the Washington Redskins?
A: “I had gone to the combine workouts and had done quite well. I was talking quite extensively with the Dallas Cowboys and they were planning on taking me as the last pick of the first round. Jimmy Johnson was known for trading down, and they had made such a move and had told me that they were now going to take me as their first pick of the second round (No. 46 overall). The 45th pick was quickly approaching and my phone rings. I assume it is going to be the Cowboys. I get on the phone, and it’s the running back coach for the Washington Redskins and he says, ‘How would you like to be a Washington Redskin?’ It was the most awkward experience for me, as one of the reps from Dallas is sitting right next to me during all of this. The Redskins go on to choose me as the 45th pick, right out from under Dallas. They also chose Tommy Carter in the first round, and so the next day Tommy and I get on a plane and make our visit to the Redskins facility for our press conference.”
Q: What are the best & worst aspects of playing in the NFL? What was the highlight of your NFL career, running for 1,063 yards as a rookie?
A: “The best part of playing in the NFL was the travel and getting to play at such a high level. Getting to play in the NFL was truly a dream come true. The worst part was that it was a job. It was not nearly as fun as playing at the collegiate level. You also did not have a lot of strong relationships with the guys on the team in the NFL. There is a big difference between playing ball at Notre Dame and playing ball in the NFL. Coming out of Notre Dame, you are prepared for the media attention and just all of the attention in general that you get as an NFL player. But you are not prepared for the team atmosphere, or lack thereof. The locker room did not have the same family feel as Notre Dame.”
“The highlight of my NFL career had to have been my rookie season. During my rookie year myself, Jerome Bettis and Rick Mirer (all former Fighting Irish stars) were leading the league in completions, rushing and yards per carry. It was also awesome to get to see lots of your former Notre Dame teammates playing with you in the NFL as well. It was very comforting to see those familiar faces.”
Q: Where did life take you after pro football?
A: “I did not have a difficult transition from the NFL to the next stage of my life. My degree from Notre Dame was in Management Information Systems. After I played in the NFL, and then for a few years for NFL Europe, I got a job as an IT (information technology) specialist. I eventually ended up coming back to Tulsa and worked for the Siegfried family, also alumni of Notre Dame. Since I only had a short NFL career, I knew I was going to have to go out and embark on my next career in order to take care of my family. I was young and knew I had a lot of life ahead of me, so the transition was pretty easy.”
“Some years later, I saw that there was a job open at Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology and I decided to go ahead and apply for it. I was working as an IT Business Analyst, and Notre Dame had a position open in Change Management. My wife and I had just been talking about where we wanted to raise our family when I got the call from Notre Dame wanting to talk with me further about coming to work for them. My wife and I had met at Notre Dame and we really felt like this call was fate. Once I was offered the position (as an administrator of production systems) we jumped on the opportunity to come back to South Bend. Then a short time after being in that position, I was asked to take a position in the athletic department as the liaison between former Notre Dame athletes and current Notre Dame student athletes. It was the perfect fit for me.”
“My current job is to re-engage former athletes with the university and to create a synergy between former athletes and current student athletes. A lot of these kids don’t understand the importance of networking, or the importance of the Notre Dame family or how to take advantage of those opportunities. They are not thinking about what tomorrow has in store for them. I have been able to work with Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, and Michael Floyd, to pair them up with mentors who can help guide them on the next step of their journey. They are not being told how to play, but are being mentored on how to be a professional, how to transition to the next level.”
Q: What is your favorite Coach Lou Holtz memory?
A: “When I played at Notre Dame, I could not stand Coach Holtz. He was an absolute tyrant. However, he was exactly what we needed. His level of discipline kept us on track. He would say the same things over and over for four years and yet they never got old. He could still get you jacked up to play right now. That little fellow really got you ready to play the game of football. He almost got me pumped up to play in the Japan bowl a few years ago. Fortunately for me, I got hurt and was not able to play. He was very instrumental in my life. Not necessarily about football, but about life in general. I live by the principles that he taught us day after day.”
“Coach Holtz really rode us hard during practice. Game day was our sanctuary because it actually meant that you got Coach Holtz off your back! My freshman year, we came to campus early to get ready for the Kickoff Classic. Here you are, this kid who was just highly recruited as a high school football player. You have Coach Holtz in your living room telling your parents how great you are. Now here we are at campus the week before the upperclassmen get there. We were under the impression that we were going to learn the plays and get our feet wet before they arrived. Oh no. He has us out there running one rep after another. You have to run 15 yards every play and then jog back to get in line again. I got tired, and ran the wrong way. I turn around and this little dude was in my face ripping me a new one. I’m thinking to myself, ‘You were just in my living room telling me how great I am and now you are ripping me a new one?’ I called home and said, ‘I don’t think I can handle this.’ But what happened was, you learned to listen to what he said, and not how he said it.”
I’d like thank Reggie Brooks for spending some time with me. Next week I sit down with defensive back Gerome Sapp!