LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Alcorn State University’s Nick Brooks, right, goes up against teammate Mauola Malaga during a drill at Thursday’s practice on the Lorman campus. Brooks is a Natchez native and senior tight end for the Braves.

Brave Nick Brooks: Natchez native sees more playing time with Alcorn offense

Published 12:02am Friday, September 14, 2012

NATCHEZ — Rough was the only way Nick Brooks could describe his time at Alcorn State from last season until now.

Rough in the sense that the Braves only won two games last fall. Rough because their coach was fired the following February. Rough because current head coach Jay Hopson wasn’t hired until after spring practice.

But the 2009 Natchez High School graduate has seized the opportunity presented to him this fall at tight end, and now Brooks, a senior, is getting plenty of playing time as the starter at that position.

“I’m seeing the ball far more than last year,” Brooks said. “Me and another guy, Jerry Salas, shared time at tight end last year and only saw five plays a game. Now, it’s more than double that.”

It’s also been an emotional lift for Brooks, since he’s getting the chance to help make things happen for the Braves’ offense.

“It’s a good feeling (being a starter), because you know you’re the guy,” Brooks said. “The tight end isn’t going to get that many shots in a game, but you feel good knowing that when it’s coming, it’s coming to you.”

A much better feeling that last year, to be sure. Under head coach Melvin Spears, the Braves had a disappointing season in 2011 before Spears was fired this past February. Brooks said things sort of snowballed out of control when the Braves kept losing.

“It was rough,” Brooks said. “After you lose the first game, you’re like, ‘We have to buckle down,’ but after you lose the second game, it’s a spirit killer.”

And that carried over into all aspects of life as a student athlete.

“You’re two games down with a 10-game season, and losing makes everything hard,” Brooks said. “It makes going to class hard and it makes going to practice hard. I think we got caught up in losing and went through the motions in practice.”

But if losing made things difficult, winning the opening game against Grambling State Spet. 1 has helped tremendously, Brooks said.

“We were pretty much going into their back yard in Shreveport (La.), and with us only getting our coach in May and getting a new system, we knew everyone was against us,” Brooks said about Grambling being able to win. “It kind of added fuel to the fire.”

Alcorn trailed 21-9 going into the fourth quarter, but scored 13 unanswered points to win 22-21.

“When we went in at the half, we knew that the plays were there, we just had to execute them,” Brooks said. “In the fourth quarter, we just had to make a decision to execute plays.”

Now 1-1, the Braves will take on Arkansas Pine Bluff at 2 p.m. Saturday for Alcorn’s home opener. Brooks said he’s hoping the Braves put on a good show.

“Arkansas Pine Bluff is pretty good,” Brooks said. “They’ve got some good skill guys. You just have to come out and execute in order to get the W.”

Even with the limited time in getting to know Hopson, Brooks said he enjoys playing for him.

“He’s a cool guy, but he’s strictly about business,” Brooks said. “He’s real big on special teams, too.”

After graduating from NHS, Brooks played at Copiah-Lincoln Community College before transferring to Alcorn last year. He’s currently the only player on the roster from Natchez.

“It makes you feel proud, because it’s right in your back yard,” Brooks said. “There’s nothing better. I’m at home playing college football.”

Brooks said he still keeps in touch with NHS head coach Lance Reed, and he talks to him at least three times a week.

“He was really close to me as a coach, plus we’re frat brothers for Omega Psi Phi fraternity,” Brooks said.

Reed is also quick to offer advice, even though Brooks no longer plays for him.

“He’s real big on character, which he says is what you do when no one else is looking,” Brooks said. “He’s been preaching that ever since eighth grade. He also says I’m the only guy from Natchez (on the team), so I have to represent.”