By Rubin E. Grant
Vestavia Hills senior free safety Will Brooks has a knack for making big plays.
As a junior in 2018, he intercepted passes thrown by two quarterbacks who are now at the University of Alabama, Hewitt-Trussville’s Paul Tyson and Thompson’s Taulia Tagovailoa.
“I actually had two against Taulia,” Brooks said. “It was pretty cool. We try to treat quarterbacks everywhere the same, but picking them off was special since both of them were going to Alabama.”
In the Rebels’ first game this season, Brooks intercepted a pass thrown by Homewood quarterback Pate Owen and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. It was the first pick-6 of his career. Last year, he had one called back against Huffman because of a penalty.
“We had been working on one particular coverage all week and we got pressure on the quarterback,” Brooks said, describing the interception against the Patriots. “When he threw it, I read the (receiver’s) break, intercepted it and was able to run it all the way back. I don’t think I was touched.”
Last Friday, Brooks was at it again, returning an interception 30 yards for a touchdown in Vestavia Hills’ 45-16 victory at Tuscaloosa County.
“We were in man coverage and the guy ran a stop and go,” Brooks explained. “The receiver ran the go and I read the stop and (the) ball came right to me and there was nobody in front of me.”
Vestavia Hills coach Buddy Anderson said there are a few reasons Brooks seemingly is always in the right place at the right time.
“He’s very intelligent and a tremendous competitor,” Anderson said. “He has a lot of savvy and he’s a very aggressive player.
“He’s like the quarterback of the secondary. He gets them lined up and makes the calls.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Brooks said it’s just a matter of doing what’s expected of him.
“The coaches signal in the calls and I make any adjustments that are needed,” he said.
Looking to This Weekend’s Game
Brooks will look to add to his big-play resume when Vestavia Hills (3-0, 2-0 in Class 7A, Region 3) plays host to rival Mountain Brook (4-0, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in a showdown for the top spot in the region standings.
“I know it will be a tough game, but if we play our best and do what our coaches tell us, I think we can get the win,” Brooks said.
Brooks became the Rebels’ starting free safety early in his sophomore season in 2017. He was still relatively new to playing defensive back.
“In middle school, I actually played running back and wide receiver,” he said. “My freshman year I played running back and my sophomore year I moved to free safety. I like defense a lot.”
The Rebels opened this season with blowout wins against Homewood (49-7) and Spain Park (45-7) before routing Tuscaloosa County. While the Rebels’ offense has gained most of the attention because of its point production, in the first two games, Vesavia Hills’ defense shut down two high-powered offenses led by two solid quarterbacks, Homewood’s Owen and Spain Park’s Harrison Barker.
“Our defense has been playing well overall, not just Will, but the rest of (the) players around him,” Anderson said.
According to Brooks, experience and preparation are the key,
“We just got a group of guys, a group of seniors, who work well together,” Brooks said. “Our coaches make great calls and put us in the right place to make plays. We’ve had a good game plan and executed well.”
Body Takes a Pounding
In addition to playing in the secondary, Brooks also returns punts, plays on the kickoff coverage team and does punt protection. His body takes a pounding.
“I do get pretty sore,” he said, “but after I take off Saturday and get the soreness out, I am ready to go again.”
Brooks hopes all the hard work enables him to play at the next level.
“I do want to play college football,” he said. “I have an offer from Valparaiso and I’ve talked to a couple of other schools.”
Brooks is a two-sport athlete. He also plays lacrosse and helped the Rebels reach the state championship game in the spring before they lost to the Spartans.
“He’s a heck of a lacrosse player,” Anderson said. “Those things kind of go hand-in-hand. Good lacrosse players make good football players; good football players make good lacrosse players.”
Brooks has a hard time choosing which is his favorite sport.
“I like lacrosse and I like football, but it changes with the season,” he said.
Right now his focus is on football and trying to help the Rebels get back to the state playoffs after they missed out in 2018.
“Our goal is to win a state championship,” Brooks said. “To do that we have to keep working hard. I know our region is tough, but if we prepare and concentrate on what we have to do, the rest will take care of itself.”