Brooks’ time away from football a ‘blessing in disguise’

After spending several months away from the South Carolina Gamecocks football team, Jalen Brooks is back and ready to roll for one final season in Columbia.

Brooks, who left the team with seven games left to play last season, didn’t return until June. He wouldn’t offer many specifics about his absence, beyond saying it was for “personal reasons.”

“The last year for me was obviously challenging, adversity hits, but at the end of the day, football is not everything,” Brooks said. “I’ve been able to prepare myself extremely well, for whenever that day comes. With my time off, I was able to come back faster and stronger. I was training. I also graduated. I’m starting my masters right now, so it’s been a blessing. It’s been a struggle, yes. But it’s been a blessing in disguise.

“I feel like I’ve handled that pretty well. I’m back with the team and I’m ready to keep on getting things rolling the way they’ve been having it going. I’m just ready to keep it going.

Brooks spoke with coach Shane Beamer once or twice a week while he was away from the team.

“Just him checking in on me and I’m just updating him with everything,” Brooks said. “I applaud him so much because he’s been such a great guy. And not only does he want me to be a great athlete, but he wants me to be a great father, great husband. That’s one thing that he preaches here, being more than an athlete, being a pro on and off the field. I appreciate him just sticking with me throughout my hardship.”

Blythewood coach Jason Seidel, who coached Brooks at Hickory Ridge High School in North Carolina, continued to play an active role in his life.

“I was training with coach Seidel and hitting sleds,” Brooks said. “Keeping a nice knee drive throughout the sled. That got me faster.”

Brooks also had an internship with the Blythewood football team.

“I was helping out with the receivers, and I would help out wherever help was needed,” Brooks said. “It was amazing – obviously, they knew who I was, because South Carolina and Blythewood are right down the street, 20 minutes away. It was very good to be around them. … They saw I was giving back to them, and the coaches really appreciated that a lot.”

Could a career in coaching be in Brooks’ future when he’s done playing? Among other things, yes.

“That’s something I’ve been thinking about,” he said. “I plan on coming back here and finishing up my masters, and if I want to coach, I can coach. If I want to go into the business or entertainment industry, then I could do that.”

Brooks has started in 10 of the 12 games he has appeared in at South Carolina. He has 25 career catches for 281 yards and a touchdown.

This season, he’ll be part of a wide receiver group that features several returning players, in addition to a couple of first-year transfers.

“Obviously, it’s deep, but it’s deep in a good way,” Brooks said. “A lot of talent, a lot of experience, a lot of competition. I feel like we’re all feeding off of each other’s energy. We all have a place we want to be. Everybody has dreams. Everybody has goals. We’re all trying to accomplish that.”

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