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Nov. 19, 2001

By Trent Packer

Two years ago, former University of Virginia quarterback Aaron brooks was languishing on the sidelines of the Green Bay Packers. He was the team’s third option behind NFL superstar Brett Favre, waiting for a chance to prove he belonged on an NFL team’s starting roster.On July 31, 2000, after his rookie season with the Packers, Brooks was traded to the New Orleans Saints. When Jeff Blake, who was the Saints’ starter, went down with a broken and dislocated right foot in Week 11 of the 2000 season, Brooks got his chance to prove he could start. He made an immediate impression on his coaches and on NFL pundits when he helped lead New Orleans to the playoffs and a 31-28 victory in the Wild Card game over defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis. The victory was the Saints’ first ever playoff win.

“I had a tremendous opportunity and had to make the most out of it,” Brooks says. “The team rallied around me and I rallied around them. What an experience to make the playoffs and beat the defending champions. That was more gratifying than anything.

“On top of that, we made history by becoming the first Saints team to win a playoff game. We were one game away from the NFC championship.”

Brooks completed 113 of 194 passes for 1, 514 yards and nine touchdowns after replacing the injured Blake. He set a franchise record by throwing for 441 yards against the Denver Broncos and became the first Saints quarterback to rush for over 100 yards with a 108-yard effort against San Francisco.

Brooks’ performance last season underscores his immense confidence in his abilities. Although he was impressed with the credentials of some of his teammates early on, at no point was Brooks intimidated by his surroundings. According to him, all he needed was an opportunity to shine.

“I always considered myself a star,” Brooks says. “There was no situation where I felt like I was star struck. When I first got into the league, I looked up to guys like Antonio Freeman and Brett Favre. But now, those guys are no different [than me].

“I finally had my chance to show the world who I was.”

Brooks emerged as a legitimate NFL starter last year, and he has continued to prove he belongs this year. In seven games, Brooks has thrown for 1, 557 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is also second on the team in rushing with 163 yards. Brooks has grown accustomed to the demands of the professional game, particularly the pace at which games are played and the size and speed of the players.

“The speed and the tempo of the game [are a lot different than they were in college],” Brooks says. “People are a lot smarter and a lot faster. You are playing against the finest athletes in the world.”

At UVa, Brooks played under then offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sparky Woods, who Brooks credits with helping him develop the skills necessary to succeed in the NFL. Woods himself was a college quarterback and later spent one year as an offensive assistant coach with the New York Jets, so he knew what awaited Brooks in the NFL. This relationship eased Brooks’ jump from Virginia to the pros.

“Sparky Woods helped me out tremendously,” Brooks said. “He knows what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL and he prepared me for that as much as possible. That made my transition a lot easier.”

In addition to the skills Brooks picked up while playing under Woods, he also learned the mental commitment necessary for professional success. Brooks asserts that his maturity and ability to approach the game with a professional demeanor has been extremely important for his development.

“It’s tough winning football games in the NFL,” Brooks asserts. ” I’m a lot older and these games mean a lot more. This is my job now. I get paid. You have got to prepare yourself as a starter every week.”

Despite the intensity of playing professional football, Brooks has not lost sight of the lighter moments spent with his teammates at Virginia. He recalls fondly a number of experiences in blue and orange, including Virginia’s 1998 come-from-behind victory over rival Virginia Tech in the final regular season game of Brooks’ career. That win helped Virginia clinch a spot in the Peach Bowl, where the Cavaliers played Georgia.

“The Virginia Tech game my senior year [is my best memory],” Brooks says. It was my last regular season game and we came back to win. The Peach Bowl game [against Georgia] is also a great memory. Those were the two most memorable games.”

Like many players who have graced the practice and playing fields at UVa, Brooks remains close to his college teammates. Brooks was part of a senior class that featured current NFL players Wali Rainer, Germane Crowell, Terrence Wilkins and Patrick Kerney, as well as Anthony Poindexter, whose professional career has been limited by injuries. Despite a busy NFL schedule, he still stays in touch with most of his Cavalier cohorts.

“We all keep in touch,” Brooks says. “We are like brothers, Wali Rainer, Anthony Poindexter, Germane Crowell and Terrance Wilkins. I just feel so bad for (Poindexter). He just couldn’t catch a break.”

While Brooks enjoys the success he is experiencing in the professional ranks, he cautions aspiring college players to enjoy their time in school. Brooks asserts that college players must keep football in perspective and prepare themselves for life outside of football.Brooks offers the following advice to Virginia’s current players who hope to one day play in the NFL: “You have got to enjoy college life. You must graduate and enjoy the college experience because you never get a chance to do it again, and you need your degree because you never know what can happen.

“You need something to fall back on. Prepare yourself for the real world and understand that it’s not all about football. Make sure you are ready to handle life without football. Those are the things you have to do to prepare yourself for the NFL and life.”

Those same lessons have served Brooks well during his short time in the NFL, where he has emerged as a rising star.

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