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April 3, 2013
Tony Brooks didn't want his son, Daniel Brooks, to long jump Mar. 7, 2012. Something about it felt wrong to him.
He found himself driving to the meet to urge his son not to participate in the long jump portion of the Rockdale Relays in his native Rockdale, Texas.
Once at the meet, Tony asked his son not to jump, but his son wanted to compete. Brooks wanted to test himself and the limits of his athletic ability, the same ability that earned him a scholarship to Oklahoma as 5-foot-9, 165-pound running back.
So they came to an agreement: Brooks would take just one of his three allotted long jumps at the meet.
"That's all it took was one jump," Tony Brooks said.
Brooks won the meet with his first attempt, setting the winning mark at 21 feet, 3 inches, but he landed awkwardly after his jump and immediately felt his right knee go numb. He didn't hear the anterior cruciate ligament or the lateral collateral ligament in his knee pop.
Others told him they did.
"It was numbness and a sharp pain, and the pain just picked up," Brooks said. "It was agonizing."
The injury shocked Brooks. He looked to his father to console him and hoped it wasn't the end of his college football career, a career that hadn't yet started.
"A lot people outside of my town thought I'd never play again," Brooks said.
Brooks notified Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops soon after the injury occurred. At first, Brooks said he wondered if Stoops would admonish him for not taking care of himself, for jeopardizing his career.
That simply wasn't the case. Stoops assured Brooks and his father that his place on the team was safe, and the best thing he could do for the Sooners, for himself, was to become healthy again.
The Brooks family arranged for the OU medical staff to repair Daniel's injured knee, and he began working with Oklahoma's athletic trainers in a rehab program as soon as he arrived on campus.
While most of the team prepared for the 2012 competition, Brooks focused on the process of rebuilding his knee and his psyche.
As a prep senior, he was a highly sought after running back and a three-star Rivals.com recruit. He was a running back with speed, a trait coaches can't teach.
While winning the 2011 3A Texas state 100-meter dash title with a time of 10.61, he finished third in the 100-meter hurdles and sixth in the 300-meter hurdles, but it was during football season that he showed his prodigious ability.
He finished his senior football season at Calhoun High School with 1,305 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 96 carries. He rushed for more than 3,000 yards in his final two seasons of high school ball.
In a span of four months, he'd gone from the focal point of an offense to being relegated to the bench on injury reserve.
"It kind of hurt," Brooks said. "I couldn't go out there how I was with my moves, my quickness. I couldn't do a lot.
"I was out all summer, all fall. I was rehabbing. I couldn't run the ball. I couldn't showoff my abilities, and what I'm capable of."
He watched most of the 2012 season from the sidelines. He basked in the atmosphere created by the fans at Memorial Stadium on fall Saturday afternoons and yearned to be out on the field carrying the football.
Brooks said he's received phone calls from Ryan Broyles and Jamaal Charles throughout his rehab process to encourage him, while Eric Striker and Alex Ross are among those he's leaned on at OU to help keep his spirits high.
Tony wanted his son to be happy, and he knew playing football would do just that. It hurt him too to know his son was being deprived of the game.
"It's a little unusual not to see him out on the field because ever since he played - I coached him way back in Pee Wee football and all those things," Tony said. "He's always been one of the standout players."
By Bedlam week last season, Oklahoma's doctors and trainers believed Brooks had made a recovery sufficient enough to allow him to suit out for OU's practices, and by the time Oklahoma played Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, he was told he could participate in contact drills.
He was ecstatic to finally return to the field, and he's participating fully in OU's spring practices. He said his speed isn't back to the pace it once was, but he believes it will be if he keeps pushing.
Brooks said he finds himself constantly stretching and performing squats to reestablish his range of motion and to break scar tissue around his knee.
"It'll probably take me, I'd say, a year and a half to two years to get back to 100 percent," Brooks said. "I'm still a step slow from when I came here."
He might be a step slow, but he's fast enough to have played some defense for the first time since November 2011. Brooks said cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright asked if he wouldn't mind playing in the secondary, and he did Tuesday afternoon.
"A lot of them called me a natural out there," Brooks said. "I hadn't played DB in so long. I gotta get the technique down.
"My passion is running back, but wherever I can get on the field and show my ability and help the team out, help the coaches, it's what I'm gonna do."
A move for Brooks to the defense is by no means finalized, but it's clear Oklahoma is giving Brooks every opportunity to earn a chance to play this fall. That's all Brooks is asking.
He simply wants to compete.