Aug. 17, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – His nickname is “Big Cheese,” but if you compare Blake Brooks now to what he was when he arrived in Marshall’s football program a year ago, you might be thinking “Jenny Craig.”
Starting his second season as a walk-on transfer in the Thundering Herd program, Brooks, a shrinking sophomore defensive tackle, is seriously bidding to be part of a regular rotation on the defensive front.
He was the 2009 Hunt Award winner as the Mountain State’s best high school lineman, and as an All-State pick, helped South Charleston High to a Class AAA championship with current Herd receiving star Aaron Dobson.
And when Brooks finished his days in SCHS Coach John Messinger’s weight-strong program, he found himself humbled.
At barely over 6 feet and 300 pounds, Brooks was called too short by some major college talent prospectors, too bulky by some others. He had no FBS offers of substance when he really wanted to play for Marshall or West Virginia. So, he took a half-scholarship at Division II Fairmont State.
Now, as Marshall stages its second controlled (and officiated) scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at 10:45 a.m. at Edwards Stadium, Brooks is in the middle of things with the Herd. He still has no major college scholarship.
No problem, he says.
“It’s been a real big blessing to get here,” Brooks said after the Herd’s Friday morning practice. “The coaches are great, the players good guys, we all get along. I love the defensive linemen, the offensive linemen, good people to be around.
“If I’m going to get on scholarship, you have to be in the program a year and a half. I’m here a year. It’s totally up to the coaches. If it happens in January, I’m loving it for sure. But right now I’m just out there every day trying to show what I can do here.”
That’s part of what drives Brooks, that initial major college football snub. He wants to prove he belongs. And for him to belong, Herd Coach Doc Holliday
told Brooks the coach wanted to see a lot less of him.
“When I got here, I was 337 (pounds),” Brooks said sheepishly. “I’m in a lot, lot better shape after summer conditioning. My speed, my endurance are much better. I weigh 302 now. I want to be 290-295, so I’m getting there.
“I’m working hard at it. For Coach Mess in high school, we all did, especially me. That’s helping me now. I finally got to Division I where I wanted, and now I work hard to prove I belong. You just keep working and see what happens.”
Brooks played 10 games, starting two, for Fairmont State in 2010, and although he says “nothing against” the Falcons, it wasn’t where he wanted to be.
Now, he’s backing up at DT, where veterans Marques Aiken and Brandon Sparrow are running with the first team. When Sparrow had an excused family absence from workouts earlier this week, Brooks worked with the first unit.
“He’s made a commitment to it, and it’s not just losing weight for Cheese, it’s losing the right weight,” said Marshall’s new defensive line coach, former Virginia Tech star and NFL alumnus J.C. Price. “He’s trimmed down his BMI (body mass index).
“Right now, we’re not doing things up front that are his strength, so he’s got to change his body to be able to adapt to the things we’re doing up front. Cheese is a classic 2-gap guy you see in the NFL, a nose guard who locks onto the center and doesn’t let him get to the next level. That’s not what we do. We’re trying to be a penetrating defense, get up the field, disrupt the timing of the offense, disrupt the pullers, mess up the blocking schemes.”
It’s not as much of a meltdown for Cheese as it sounds.
“He’s actually done a great job with it,” Price said, “much better during these two-a-days at being a disruption up the field than he was in the spring. He just needs to be conscious of what Coach Holliday wants (in his weight). I’m sure there’s a number that’s been discussed there that Coach wants him to be. He’s a work in progress.”
Brooks said that last season, the Herd interior defensive linemen “hooked up onto the center, didn’t do much penetration and wherever the center went, we went. This year, it’s different. The coaches have us tilting and we need to dip our one shoulder and get penetration.
Brooks’ strength is his … well, strength. He’s hoisted a 2012 Herd-best 630 pounds in the squat and his 440-pound bench press also is a team best. Brooks also turned in an impressive broad jump of 8-6.
Brooks said that’s a function of dropping twenty pounds since January. If he wants more playing time, Holliday has to see a smaller hunk of Cheese.
“It was very disappointing, honestly, to not have any (major college) offers at first,” Brooks said. “I was looking for scholarships and it didn’t happen that way. So, I said I guess I just have to take the money and run.
“It hurt, no division I offers, and then I was determined I wasn’t going to walk on after that. It discouraged me in a lot of ways, it really did. Now, I’m happy. I got a chance here. It’s been great. It’s what I expected. It’s where I wanted to be all along.”
Brooks is in the DT mix, behind Aiken and Sparrow, with Jarquez Samuel, Steve Dillon, Malcolm Strong and freshman Joe Massaquoi.
“I like Cheese; he’s going to be all right,” Holliday said a couple of days ago. “He gets his weight down where it belongs, and he’ll be fine.
“He was a triple-pounder when he got here. Now, he’s down to about a double-pounder.”