Jalen Brooks is officially back with the South Carolina football program.
The North Carolina native spoke for the first time since being away from the team for what he and head coach Shane Beamer deemed “personal reasons” that sidelined him the final seven games of last year.
While Brooks declined to share any specifics as to the nature of his extended absence, he sounded off on returning to football, being back with his teammates and the makeup of the receiver room in 2022.
“Being away with the team, things come up that are more important than football,” Brooks told The State. “You’ve always got to handle your business. Adversity came my way, but I didn’t stop grinding. I kept on working. I came back stronger and faster.
“I missed for personal reasons and I’m going to continue to keep it that way, (but) it was also a blessing in disguise. I got to create a new identity outside of football. I came back and graduated. You started my master’s. I’m very excited.”
Brooks has been practicing with the team since June and was expected to be a big part of South Carolina’s passing attack a season ago before stepping away from the program. He recorded 14 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown in five games last year. His best outing was a four-catch, 63-yard effort against Kentucky, which included a 5-yard score.
How Brooks factors into the 2022 receiving corps remains to be seen. South Carolina revamped the unit this offseason, adding transfers Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. (James Madison) and Corey Rucker Jr. (Arkansas State). Josh Vann — who led USC in receiving a year ago — is also back in the fold after briefly testing the NFL waters.
“Competition is always fun, and it’s even better now that we’ve got a lot of guys that we can just roll,” Brooks said. “Now we can just roll in and out and it’s a blessing. It’s extremely fun and I’m grateful.”
Brooks told The State that his plan, as of now, is to declare for the NFL Draft after the season and come back to finish his master’s degree in sports and entertainment management whenever his playing days are done.
Between now and then, the hope is he’ll be a crucial depth piece to what South Carolina can do offensively.
“I don’t know if I want to go into coaching, or if I want to go into the mutual fund industry, or if I want to do project management,” Brooks said of his future plans. “I was able to create a new identity, and that was the most important thing for me.”