It wasn’t exactly a low-key situation that awaited Durant Brooks when he pulled the gold Georgia Tech helmet on his head and ran on to the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium to punt for the first time.
There was no easing-in period, no chance to break in against a Presbyterian or a Wofford.
The opponent was Notre Dame, and the Irish were ranked among the nation’s best. The stadium was packed, even those seats in the upper reaches of the East Stands. The game was such a big deal that ESPN sent its College GameDay crew.
“I was so nervous,” Brooks said, remembering his debut. “Everybody was going nuts. Not everybody realizes that everybody gets nervous, but when you play another position, you get to run on the field and hit somebody, and you’re OK. When you walk on the field as a punter, you’ve got to control your thoughts and nerves.”
As Brooks took his position, he received a made-to-order snap from always-reliable long snapper Bret White and let it rip. It wasn’t exactly a tight spiral, but it was effective. The ball rolled out of bounds at the Notre Dame 18 and had traveled 40 yards.
“It ended up OK, if you look at the stats,” Brooks said with a laugh. “The game ended up really well, something like a 48-yard average. We didn’t get the win, that was the only thing.”
Georgia Tech lost the game 14-10. Durant kicked seven times for a 48.1-yard average. Three kicks exceeded 50 yards. Four of them finished inside the 20.
That kick launched the career of perhaps the greatest punter in the long history of the Georgia Tech program. Brooks had no way of knowing at the time that he was on his way to a becoming one of the greatest Yellow Jackets. This fall, the former Tattnall Square star will be inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame, an honor that was announced last week.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Durant said. “It’s humbling. The fact that I’m even mentioned in the same category with Calvin Johnson. It’s amazing to come from where I came from, a small town, and work to where I got to and 10 years later going into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame.”
Brooks grew up in Gordon, and he attended school in Macon, first at Tattnall Square, then at Stratford and back to Tattnall, where his father, Paul, coached.
Brooks was a good athlete and played both sides at the small school. He punted, too, but estimated he practiced that part of the game once a week at the most. He began to get interested in Georgia Tech late in his high school career, but it was too late to warrant any scholarship interest, so he opted to kick at GMC.
It’s just unbelievable. It’s humbling. The fact that I’m even mentioned in the same category with Calvin Johnson. It’s amazing to come from where I came from, a small town, and work to where I got to and 10 years later going into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame.
He shifted his focus to punting. Brooks and the GMC place-kicker spent every day in the solitude of the upper field. Punt after punt, he worked and worked.
“That’s where I worked on my punting for two years,” he said. “We just worked on kicking and punting. We didn’t have a special teams coach. I had been to a couple of Ray Guy camps, and I took what I learned from those total four days of camp and continued to work on it.”
He began to figure things out and his hard work began to get noticed. Clemson and South Carolina both came calling but offered only preferred walk-on status. By that time, Brooks had his mind set on Georgia Tech. He was aware of the punting situation and saw his opening with the Yellow Jackets.
He joined the program, sat out a year as a redshirt while he took a heavy load of classes in order to be eligible. The next year, with the incumbent out of the way, Brooks won the job and began setting records.
In two seasons, he averaged 45.31 yards per punt and 40.42 net yards. Of his 144 career punts, 68 were downed inside the 20 and 57 were 50-plus yards. The best was a 77-yarder against North Carolina. He was All-ACC in 2006 and 2007 and a second-team All-America choice both years.
He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award — given to the nation’s best punter — in 2006 and won the award in 2007.
“Looking back at some of the records I broke or came close to … it really is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about the Hall of Fame speech I’m going to give, and I want people to understand that one of the reasons was I had such a great coverage team around me.
“I had to hit a good ball, but I had a great long-snapper. Bret was incredible as far as getting me the most consistent snaps. I never had to worry about where that snap was going. As far as blocking and cover schemes, my coverage guys got down there, and it’s amazing how good they were.”
Brooks was a sixth-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins and went on to spend time with Green Bay, Philadelphia and Jacksonville before returning to his home state. He currently lives in Peachtree Corners and works as a sales engineer for Bardi Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.
Brooks married Natanya Harper, who was one of the top freestyle competitors on the Georgia Tech swim team. They have two daughters, Harper, 4, and Maci, 7 months.