“The kids won’t care how much I know until they know how much I care.”
Story by Dean Rowland & Photos by Mike Ritterbeck
If durability is the key to success, then former NFL player Keith Brooking is a highly successful man.
The five-time pro bowler and first-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 1998 out of Georgia Tech played in every game in his last 12 of 15 professional seasons. No small feat when you consider how often players at all positions are injured every year and miss at least some game action. The 6-2, 245-pound linebacker also played for the Cowboys and Broncos.
He conditioned year-round, often with the help of team trainers, and was a frequent grunter in the weight room. Even four surgeries on his left knee and a major foot issue in 2001 didn’t keep him off the field.
Today at 43, Brooking is a “lean” 220 pounds, has no lingering or lifestyle-altering aches or pains, and is in good mental and neurological health. Plus, he works out daily.
After over three decades as a player, starting as a kid in his native Georgia and retiring as an NFL pro after the 2012 season, Brooking now is a local coach. He coached at the recreational level for three years and just signed on as the head coach of Cross Schools first football season for middle schoolers, grades sixth through eighth.
His mission for the kids isn’t durability, but teaching them fundamentals and techniques.
Cross Schools in Bluffton, where his four children attend from their Palmetto Bluff home, wanted to launch a football program at the school, and he met with head of schools Brad Schultz late last year about coaching the youngsters.
“He was very interested in bringing football to the school, and I was very interested in helping him do that,” Brooking said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer and a lot to give back.”
The inaugural season will begin in September with the first of six to eight games being played on Thursday afternoons after the school bell rings for dismissal.
There’s a lot to do from now until then, Brooking said.
“We don’t have anything,” he said.
Equipment and uniforms have to be ordered for the expected 20-25 players. He has to assemble a coaching staff of volunteer dads, get everybody aligned on the same tutorial page, and establish game dates and opposing teams.
In late spring, he’s planning 10 days of practice for individual player evaluations, a summer conditioning program with a focus on techniques and building a solid foundation, then practicing early in the fall preparing for the start of the season.
“There will be some hurdles and steps along the way to make adjustments,” he said. “My expectations are to teach the kids how to play the game of football the right way, the fundamentals and techniques. Safety is at the forefront.”
Booking is the first to say that, as great a team game that football is, it’s a physical game and requires a mental toughness at any level and skill set. The kids and coaching staff have to emote “passion, emotion and enthusiasm” for the game.
His coaching style will be constructive and age-appropriate in tenor and attitude.
“The kids won’t care how much I know until they know how much I care,” said Brooking, Georgia Tech’s all-time leading tackler.
Cross Schools aims to introduce football at the high school level in 2020.
Brooking loves Palmetto Bluff and the Lowcountry almost as much as football and his family: wife Holly and his children, who range in age from 3 to 12, daughters Willa and Ella; and sons Logan and Jonah.
They squeezed in their honeymoon for a few days in 2005 at Palmetto Bluff — she found it in a national travel magazine and it was close to Atlanta where he was playing . The first impression of the Lowcountry was an ever-lasting one for the couple.
“We fell in the love with Palmetto Bluff and the area,” he said. “We love the scenery and the pace of life in the Slow Country … It’s a great environment to raise young kids. There’s plenty of things for them to do.” LL
Huddle Talk from Brooking
Former NFL player and Palmetto Bluff resident Keith Brooking shared a few thoughts about his life today:
[LOCALLife] Do you miss playing?
[Keith Brooking] “I don’t miss the football. But the camraderie, the guys, relationships and being a part of something, you can’t emulate that in today’s world. I miss that part of the game.”
Favorite place for a family meal? [KB] Buffalo’s, Mellow Mushroom, Truffles, Chow Daddy’s, and Santa Fe Cafe
Favorite family outing on a spring day? [KB] “We don’t have a lot of spring afternoons with nothing to do…We stay here to relax and enjoy the family.”
What do you and your wife drive? [KB] Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Cadillac SUV
Favorite Southern food? [KB] “Fried chicken…You can only prepare chicken one way: fried.”