Every now and then people come into our lives that make an impact. Some are negative, others are positive. I think we all can agree that we keep our fingers crossed for more of the latter.
There are very few people in my life that I feel that I can call family who aren't actually blood related. Ahmad Brooks is one of those people.
I had the honor and privilege of meeting Mr. Brooks about seven years ago, after leaving a Texas Longhorn football game. My wife and I were walking back to our car after a Longhorn victory, my very first experience at a Longhorn football game at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium.
I was still a buzz with the sights and sounds of the game, when from across the street next to the stadium I hear "Hey family! Hey Family!" My wife got all excited when we both turned and saw Ahmad standing on the sidewalk waving. Just to give you a little back story, Ahmad and my wife attended and graduated from high school together in Abilene Texas.
It was the first time my wife and Ahmad had seen each other in a while so, the reunion was a special one to see. Now, for me at the time, I honestly had no idea who Ahmad Brooks was. I knew that he played football at the University of Texas and I knew that he was friends with my wife, but I had no idea WHO I was about to meet.
As the introductions were made, the first thing I noticed was how engaged Ahmad was. He seemed genuinely interested in meeting me and who I was. The second thing I noticed was that Ahmad was wearing his "T" ring.
For those who don't know, a "T" ring is earned by a football player at the University of Texas that not only fulfilled his commitment to the team, but also graduated from Texas. It is, next to my wedding ring, the single most impressive piece of jewelery that I've ever seen.
We talked for about 30 minutes or so and then said our goodbyes and nice to meet you's. Instead of a handshake, Ahmad pulled me in and gave me a big hug like he and I were just as good friends as he and my wife are. As we continued back to our car to go home, I looked at my wife and said, "What a great guy! I hope I get to meet him again."
So fast forward seven years, after exchanged phone numbers, birthday parties and breakfasts in downtown Austin. I now have a friend that I'll never forget or neglect and a "family" member that I am honored to call so.
When I decided that I wanted to try sports writing, one of the first people I called was Ahmad, to get his opinion—since he is also in sports broadcasting. Then it hit me. Who better to do a "Lifetime Longhorn" story about than the one person I know that is a Lifetime Longhorn? Ahmad agreed to sit down with me and tell me his story, and I'm very pleased to bring it to you.
Ahmad Brooks attended and graduated from Abilene High in Abilene, Texas. Ahmad was a dual sport athlete, participating in both football and soccer. I had heard a story that Ahmad was considering walking away from the game of football to concentrate on his soccer career. Ahmad's football coach at the time, Steve Warren, was a big reason for him not doing so.
I asked Ahmad if he would share his memory of the day he walked into Coach Warren's office to break the news that he was quitting the football team.
"Most people don't know this about me, but I was 10 times better at soccer than I was at football and I'm proud to say that. I was on the National team, I was All-State as a Freshman, All-Regionial, and first team at that. At the age of 14 I was traveling around the world playing soccer and I remember my first trip abroad, we went to Costa Rica. In this third-world country, the kids playing with soccer balls that were so used that the leather shell was completely worn off of them, the painted goals on the street, it really impacted my life."
"That sport was much more goalable than football and in hind sight it is. It's the most popular sport in the world and at my size, 5'7" and 135 pounds at the time, it made no sense to continue playing football."
"So I walked into Coach Warren's office with all intentions of me quitting. I let him know that I wanted to concentrate on soccer, he knew how good I was at the sport, and I didn't feel like I was getting the recognition that I deserved in football. I was playing QB at the time and I knew that I would never play Quarterback in college. You have to keep in mind this is right before my Junior year of high school, I was traveling with the top 50 soccer players in the world earlier that year, so I knew I had a future in the sport of soccer."
"I walked into Coach Warren's office right before spring ball to inform him that I would be quiting, the whole time coach was shaking his head. About that time he reached under his desk and pulled out about 50 letters from big Division I schools in the country for football. I remember starting to cry, it was a very emotional moment. Coach Warren was my DB's coach the year before and now my Head Coach, so it was an accomplishment for both of us."
Coming into Ahmad's senior year of high school, he was voted to the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star game, which was the first time an Abilene High School football player had done it since 1964. Ahmad was also the first Abilene High football player to be signed by a Division I school in 11 years.
I wanted to know what those two accomplishments meant to him and what impact he thinks it made on the Abilene High School football program.
"For me personally, it meant that all the people I surrounded myself with, my family, my god-family and my coaches, that we had made it. To be honest with you, I came from a family that would not have been able to afford to send me to college, so to be offered a Division I scholarship was an answered prayer."
"I knew that coming from a school that had the most wins in the west, and that we had been down the last few years, I hoped that I had started something. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of those accomplishments. I would like to think what the exposure that my ability put on the Abilene High football program has given guys like Ronnell & Herschel Sims to continue that tradition."
"I don't want to take anything away from their hard work, but when I was at Abilene High, there wasn't any attention there and that's because we stunk it up. To be a member of a football team from one of the most prestigious programs in the country, in a state known for football, those two accomplishments were a dream come true for me."
When Ahmad was being recruited there were a number of schools looking at him. In an interview he gave during the recruitment process he was asked to list his top schools, in no particular order. Those schools were Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Colorado.
I wanted to know what the major deciding factors were for Ahmad choosing The University of Texas.
"What made my recruitment process with Texas so important was that Coach [Mack] Brown told me that out of thousands of kids that wanted to play at Texas, about 300 or so had the ability to do so, and out of those only 22 to 25 would actually get a scholarship to wear the coveted burnt orange and white."
"Out of those kids, maybe six or seven will become starters, maybe two or three of those will become All-Conferance and if they're lucky, maybe one or two of those will become pros. Coach came into my house and sat down with me and my family and talked about my education."
"That's what won me over with Coach Brown. We talked football and what impact I could make on the team, but he most importantly talked to me about my education, which was my biggest concern when choosing the school that I was going to attend. I knew that at some point in my life I was going to have to rely on my degree."
For all of Longhorn Nation, we all know that Coach Brown's first year was 1998. This happens to be the same year that Ahmad enrolled in the University of Texas.
I asked Ahmad how special it was to him that he was recruited by Coach Brown in his inaugural season as the Head Coach of the University of Texas football team.
"To be completely honest, I didn't know Coach Brown and really didn't have a desire to know him. Coach John Mackovic had recruited me until December seventh, which is when Coach Brown took over as Head Coach at Texas."
"I wasn't really fond of the University of Texas. The school I really wanted to attend was Notre Dame. I was really much more familiar with Coach Davie at the time and their program. Growing up in Texas and being a Notre Damn fan, I didn't really have a lot of love for the University of Texas."
"I was honored to be recruited by him, but I had no idea that when I was being recruited by Coach Brown that 13 years later he would have the highest winning percentage since Coach Royal, that our recruiting class would put us back in the top 5 tier, that I would leave Texas a captain, that I would get to play with Ricky Williams and so many other guys that have impacted college football."
"Sometimes you are just so selfish as a recruit, that you're just looking at the best opportunity, and at the time I didn't think that Texas was that opportunity. They were coming off a 4-7 year and Coach Brown told me that they were going to open this up for competition. Coach Brown came and looked me straight in the eye and was an honest man, and that was the most important thing for me."
"I could tell that my parents had respect and admiration for him, but I had no idea that 13 to 14 years later I would be calling a Hall of Fame Coach and looking at him as a second father figure. The best decision I ever made was to become a Christian, my second best decision was to come to The University of Texas."
When Ahmad was initially being recruited, he was being looked at as a Wide Receiver, a Special Teams Specialist or both. Knowing that Ahmad had played Quarterback, Strong Safety and Running Back in high school, I was curious who made the decision and when the decision was made to move him to Defensive Back.
"Well at the time, the way Coach Brown did it, is very different from the way to do it now. As freshman, the first day of camp, we went through offensive drills. The second day we went through defensive drills."
"I remember the first day, I didn't get a whole lot of attention. I was playing Wide Receiver and I played a little Wide Receiver in high school, but I really didn't know what I was doing. It had been two years since I had played the position. Back when John Lackey was the Quarterback I played a little Wide Receiver, but I started at Safety."
"So what they did was they called some of the athletes into a meeting after the second day, and I'll never forget that Jeff "Maddog" Madden asked me how I felt about playing Corner. I told him that I had never played it and I really never want to play it. He laughed and he told me that I had the opportunity to play early at Corner."
"I remember thinking that this was a scam, but I trusted them. I felt that the people that had their hand on me had my best interests at heart, so I decided to play Corner. I had to learn the position very quickly, but I had a lot of help."
"I knew that if they told me that was the position that I needed to play then I would play it to the best of my ability. I ended up being All-Conference, I lead the team in interceptions and became a captain of the defense. It was one of the best decisions I made while at The University of Texas."
Ahmad had a great career at The University of Texas. When his collegiate years were over, he left the 40 acres with a total of 51 games played, starting in 27 of those. Ahmad had a total of 182 tackles, four sacks, four interceptions, 27 pass break-ups, seven forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
His career highs all came the year he graduated with 88 tackles. 22 of those came in the Big 12 Conference Championship game against the Colorado Buffalos, which is still a school record today.
It was also the year that the Texas Longhorn football team had the number one rated defense in the country. The 2001 graduating class from the University of Texas has what most of the Longhorn Nation considers the most legends on the 40 acres.
I was curious if Ahmad still kept in touch with any of his ex-teammates and if so, who does he talk to the most.
"All of them. Every single one. Part of it is because of what I do know. My position with sports broadcasting in radio, television and doing the Coach Brown show, so I keep up with all of them, but, it's not just me. Even the guys that haven't pursued a career in what I do. We all keep in touch with one another because you don't stop talking to family."
"When i came to Texas, Coach Brown made it very clear that we were going to be together. On the field and off. When I came to Texas In 1998, there was a racial divide, there was a divide against starters and back-ups and there was a divide between scholarship players and walk-ons. Coach Brown was not accepting of that and he told us that we were going to put our differences aside. Coach was very adamant that there was going to be a family atmosphere."
"Since that time, I can't tell you how many times I've talked to those guys. I have 4 or 5 that I talk to on a weekly basis, but anytime one of the guys are in town, they pick up the phone. We're alway's texting and keeping in contact. I have no problem speaking for all the Lifetime Longhorns when it comes to that. Ever since Coach Brown has come to Texas, it's been like the Mafia. We're a family that you can't get out of, even in death."
Ahmad went on to play in the NFL. He wasn't drafted, but was signed as a Free Agent with the Buffalo Bills and was later on the New Orleans Saint's roster. Ahmad spent approximately three and a half years in the NFL, before retiring and coming back to Austin.
As fan of the game—and like most red-blooded American boys—I always wondered what it would be like to play a professional sport. I had to ask Ahmad what was his fondest memory of being part of the NFL.
"My very first thought would be in 2002, a game against the New England Patriots. They were just coming of their Super Bowl victory, our Quarterback at the time was Drew Bledsoe and of course Tom Brady was on the other side. It was the first meeting between the two, after the situation where Drew had come into the game to save them and they had moved Tom back."
"It was an amazing experience and I had a good game. Tom only threw the ball to my side of the field once all game, I got to start the game. I was covering Troy Brown and he had the one catch for 16 yards. I was able to talk a little trash to Tom Brady. Just to be on the field with a future Hall of Famer, to get to play a big game like that, that meant so much to that region, by far that is my most fondest memory."
"A very close second would be playing against Brett Favre. I played 20 plus snaps and not once did Brett throw my way. I got to talk trash to Brett and earn his respect. I was covering Terry Glenn and Brett told me after the game that I did a good job of shutting him down."
As part of the "Lifetime Longhorn" series, I felt that there should be at least one signature question. I have come up with two. I realize that not every collegiate athlete is going to win an award or be recognized for his or her abilities, but for those who do, I wanted to know of those awards, which one do they hold the highest.
I don't ever expect the same answer twice, but I haven't ever gotten the answer I expect from the person I'm talking to at the time. It was no different with Ahmad.
"The one thing that I received from the collegiate level that I'm most proud of can't be worn or hung on a wall. When I was voted by my peers to be team captain is by far the best thing I ever received. I think that it's a very important thing to get the respect of your teammates and your coaches."
"I didn't receive a whole bunch of awards for my play because I was surrounded by three All-Americans in the back field with Rod Babers, Nathan Vasher and Quentin Jammer. I knew what my responsibility was. I knew that if i could put aside my ego and do what I had to do to help the team, then I would get the respect of my team or at least I hoped to. It was a very special moment for me to be named the first team captain of the Mack Brown era that was recruited by Mack Brown."
All you have to to is read the title of this piece—or have read my first piece—to know that this is a series about athletes that have played and graduated from the University of Texas. When you have accomplished those two feats, then you leave the 40 acres with the title "Lifetime Longhorn."
Little did I know that I would be asking the Original Lifetime Longhorn what it meant to him to have that title. Certain traditions are around because a student did something unforgettable or a cheerleader puts up a hand sign at a pep rally that embodies a mascot or University name. It's not every day that you get to meet the person that is responsible for creating something so important to their peers that it not only sticks, it becomes the very thing that every athlete that follows you is given to take with them for the rest of their lives.
In this case, a title. Two simple words that I would like to think every student athlete that has, is or will attend the University of Texas can be proud of..."Lifetime Longhorn." I was not prepared for the response I was about to get from Ahmad in regards to what that term meant to him.
"Well Daniel, I know that you can't see this through the phone, but I'm smiling big right now. I always remember never liking the term former Longhorn. I'll tell you, I feel like more of a Longhorn now than I ever did as a player. There are two reason for that."
"One, I graduated from that university and have gone through so much there. And two, I've had an opportunity to look back at everything that that university stands for from the pursuit of excellence, to accomplishing your dreams and to trying to change the world in a positive way. Things that were taught to us on and off the field."
"I'll never forget my very first day on the radio on a show here in Austin called 'The Sports Buffet.' I was just hired as the co-host and the main host, John Madani, had my introduction as former Longhorn Ahmad Brooks and it bothered me. So I told him I didn't want to be called that. I told him that I'm not a former Longhorn."
"I told him this on air and I wish that we would've marked the tape because I had no idea that what I was about to say would become something that the great Craig Way would use to start referring to people who went to school at Texas, or something that Deloss Dodds would accept as a great term to use for athletes that had participated at the University of Texas. I just knew, I knew in my heart that I had to come up with something to signify the way I felt about the university."
"It is an honor, and I mean an absolute honor, to know that I was the Original Lifetime Longhorn and too have started a trend that I hope will stick with Longhorn athletes for the rest of our lives. The reason I say that is because I know that when I die, my obituary is going to say that I played football at the University of Texas, it's going to say more about me playing ball that any other thing."
"So knowing all the sacrifices that have been made, all the different experiences that I had while I was enrolled at the great University of Texas, coming from a state that's known for football, I'm a proud Texan and I think that athletes from the University of Texas should have a different name from everyone else. I'm so proud to be called a Lifetime Longhorn and that pride grows stronger everyday."
If I haven't done it already I guess I don't have the words to express to you how much it means to me that Ahmad sat down with me to share a look back on a great time in his life. It has been my greatest pleasure to get to share a part of someone's life with you that means as much to me as family does.
Ahmad Brooks is a great person who I've never seen turn away from a fan, not sign an autograph or pose for a picture. I hope that I have done him justice and that you at least can understand, even if it's just a fraction, of how I feel about him.
I encourage all of you to check out his Facebook page and follow Ahmad on Twitter. As much as he's accomplished, I know that it's just the tip of the iceberg. I can't wait to see if Ahmad will get to fulfill his most important dreams and one day move into one of the most important addresses in the great state of Texas. Much love and respect family and as always...HOOK'EM!!