Free safety Darrell Brooks is a key part of the changing attitudes in Wildcats football
By Jessica Fish
Arizona Athletics Media Relations
For the first time in his three-year career at Arizona, Darrell Brooks is having fun on the football field.
Sure, Arizona has a losing record headed into the Cal game. But something makes this year’s losing record different from those of the last three seasons.
“We play with so much more intensity and passion than we have before,” said Brooks. “It’s fun for us once again, like it was when we were younger.”
Brooks says that even though the Wildcats lost their last three home games, he and the team had a good time anyway.
“All the games this year have been pretty fun since they’ve all come down to the wire,” Brooks said. “That Wisconsin game in the rain was fun, and Washington State was a great time because we played hard the entire game and the crowd was behind us. It was a nail-biter and we played hard for 60 minutes.”
As it happens, Brooks says playing good, competitive football for 60 minutes has been the Cats’ biggest downfall so far this year. The offense is markedly better than last season, not to mention a defense that easily eclipses last year’s version. But Arizona can’t expect to win without playing the whole game.
“We have to stay focused for 60 minutes, and stay focused on our game plan,” said Brooks. “We have to maintain our confidence and know that we can play well.”
Confidence, it seems, was largely missing in action last year. Brooks and the 2003 Wildcats went 2-10, the worst season in school history. But this year things are different, says Brooks.
Head Coach Mike Stoops and his brand-new staff have brought an intensity to Arizona’s football field that Brooks says he hasn’t felt in a while.
“You can feel the passion that each one of our coaches has for the game and for the players,” said Brooks. “They are into every single play. (The coaches) are perfectionists, and perfection is what we try to give them.”
To say that Stoops is emotionally involved in every play is an understatement, to say the least. John Mackovic and Mike Hankwitz were calm and collected on the sidelines, whereas TV stations have taken to assigning a “Stoops Cam” to watch the first-time coach’s sideline antics.
“Our coaches want us to win as bad as we do,” Brooks said. “I think the way we prepare for the game and the energy we put into it just rubs off on Coach Stoops. He makes us want to go out there and play with that emotion and high intensity every day.”
Brooks’ admiration of his coaches goes both ways. Mike Stoops and secondary coach Mark Stoops have nothing but praise for the junior free safety.
“He’s the guy who keeps everything together,” said Mike Stoops. “He’s one of the best safeties that I’ve had the opportunity to be around. He’s a leader and a tremendous football player, and he understands the system very well.”
Statistically speaking, Brooks does a bit more than just understand the system. Prior to the Oregon game, Brooks tallied 30 total tackles, 18 solo and 12 assists. He also racked up four tackles for a loss of 12 yards, his first career sack for a loss of seven yards, an interception, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
“Darrell has been giving us some big plays,” said Mark Stoops. “He’s very instinctual on the field and he likes to play physical. He can play the deep zones, and he’s also given us some big hits.”
Third among the Cats’ defenders in a close race for most tackles, Brooks won’t pat himself on the back for a job well done.
“I’m not satisfied with the way I’m playing,” said the 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Moreno Valley, Calif. “There are a lot of things I’m doing well at the moment, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Mike Stoops, however, has no problems giving Brooks credit when it’s due.
“He just does everything well,” said Stoops. “He’s a great player.”
Great or not, Brooks won’t be happy until Arizona finds a way to win again.
“I think guys are slowly starting to see that we’re actually capable of winning games and making big plays and being up there with some of the top teams in the nation,” said Brooks. “But we need to take the opportunities to win when we get them. We’ve got a lot of guys healthy now, and everybody’s focused and ready to play. We need to just be confident and go out there and make plays so we can finally get some more W’s under our belt.”
Brooks’ sights are set a bit higher than just a winning season, though. Since he’s been at Arizona, the Cats have finished 5-6, 4-8, and 2-10. A winning record would seem like a big step in the right direction. But not so for Brooks.
“We’re still going to pull this season out and finish strong,” Brooks said. “Things didn’t start out the way we wanted to, but our goal is to be in a bowl game, and we’re going to pull it off. There’s no doubt in any of our minds.”
This article first appeared in the Oct. 23 Arizona football game program.