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Make no mistake: Decalon Brooks is more than just Derrick's son

Linebacker Decalon Brooks chose Florida State University on National Signing Day on Wednesday February 1, 2017 at Gaither High School in Tampa.
Linebacker Decalon Brooks chose Florida State University on National Signing Day on Wednesday February 1, 2017 at Gaither High School in Tampa.
Published Feb. 2, 2017

TAMPA

His name is Derrick Brooks, but answers to his middle name, Decalon. His mother decided.

"We wanted him to have his own identity," Carol Brooks said.

"We wanted him to make his own footprint," Derrick Brooks said.

Wednesday was another footprint. And a scene repeated at hundreds of high schools across America. National signing day. In the media center at Gaither High, Carol and Bucs great Derrick Brooks watched their oldest son, an early commit, sign to play for Florida State, Brooks' alma mater where his number is retired. Has also has a bust in Canton, Ohio. Decalon introduced his father at the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

"Decalon has done a great job in making his own path," Brooks said.

Decalon is going to Tallahassee, where his dad remains a legend.

"My parents always told me I could make a name for myself," Decalon said.

He played outside linebacker for Gaither, and a lot of other positions. Brooks made 105 tackles, 64 of them solo, in his senior season, including six sacks. He'll probably move to strong safety in Tallahassee, where his father was an All-American and helped lead FSU to the 1993 national title.

"Sure, there's pressure," Decalon said. "But with God and my family's help, I'll get through it."

"Maybe his legacy can exceed mine," Derrick Brooks said. "I want it to. I only know that I want his footprints in Tallahassee to be all his own."

Decalon embraces his father's legacy. His dad never pushed. He kept a respectful distance when his son played for Gaither.

"I wasn't out there trying to relive my football days through my son," he said.

"Derrick was always a good voice, a calming presence," said former Gaither coach Jason Stokes, who coached Decalon for all four of his high school seasons.

Stokes thought of Decalon.

"He always watched film, studied hard, worked hard in the weight room," Stokes said. "He was a leader. He always did the extra things. A lot like his dad."

Derrick Brooks said he was there for his when he had questions during the recruiting process, nothing more.

"This was his decision, not mine. I stayed at arm's length. I made it clear to schools. 'You don't need to be recruiting Derrick Brooks. You need to be recruiting Decalon Brooks.' "

Signing day can be an overblown exercise, all that contrived suspense. Wednesday at the Gaither media center contained none of that. Decalon and four other Gaither Cowboys signed their letters. Make fun of signing day all you want, but parents' tears never lie. Carol Brooks got an early jump. She dabbed her eyes before it began.

"I was breaking down inside," Derrick said.

After Decalon signed, his mother and father joined him for pictures, as did his siblings, Brianna, Darius and Dania. Hold it. Smile. Family portrait.

Decalon dreams of being an entrepreneur. That's how he wants to make a difference after football.

We mentioned there were four other Gaither kids signing. They have dreams. There was Estefano Feliciano, who played linebacker with Decalon and who is headed for Old Dominion. And Ben Hickson and David Garzon, who signed to play soccer for Florida College. And Kasey Heslin, who will play softball for Pasco-Hernando State College.

All those footprints.

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