LSU: Marcel Brooks

TXHSFB Flower Mound Marcus senior linebacker Marcel Brooks (9) looks on from the sidelines during the first half of a high school football game against Arlington Bowie at Flower Mound Marcus High School, Friday, August 31, 2018. (Brandon Wade/For The Dallas Morning News)

FLOWER MOUND, Texas — Marcel Brooks sits down in the Marcus High coaches office and rubs his arms, still sore from his workout the night before.

It's Tuesday, and the five-star LSU signee is on his own schedule. Too old for the Marauders' offseason football program, still a month away from leaving for Baton Rouge, Brooks has constructed a nightly workout routine by watching instructional YouTube and Instagram videos.

A 24-hour gym is a five-minute run from Brooks' house. He'll plug in his earbuds, cross the one traffic light beyond his neighborhood, jog past the Sonic drive-thru and weave through the bushes near the gym's front door.

Sometimes if Brooks is "feeling fired up," he will hurdle the bushes entirely.

The routine hardly quenches the thirst of an 18-year-old temporarily removed from the game he loves.

"I haven't had no spring ball," Brooks says, fidgeting in his seat. "I'm itching right now to play football."

The last time Brooks played? The All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 5, where the nation's No. 2 outside linebacker, as rated by 247Sports, teamed up with four other LSU signees and led the game with seven tackles.

But the 6-foot-2 Brooks — who says he weighs more than 200 pounds now, at least 13 pounds heavier than his first measurement on the LSU roster — was more than a linebacker at Marcus, where the coaching staff rotated him at defensive back, running back and used him as a full-time wide receiver. 

And Marcus wasn't a short-handed, small program. The Marauders were a 68-player team playing in Class 6A, the highest division in Texas.

"He's unbelievable," Marcus defensive coordinator Ty Pattrick said of Brooks, who also caught 31 passes for 635 yards and five touchdowns last season. "He may be the best high school athlete I've ever seen."

The Marauders ran a 3-4 defense under Pattrick, and he didn't want to limit Brooks to a specific defensive position. He would just attach Brooks to the box and "let him go rush the passer and things."

Sounds a lot like a certain unanimous All-American LSU safety.

"We can use him a lot like we did Grant Delpit," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said when Brooks signed with LSU during December's early signing period.

Brooks is the prototypical LSU safety, fitting the similar molds of Delpit, JaCoby Stevens and current New York Jets star Jamal Adams: free-ranging playmakers for defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who often pressures opponents by creating and winning favorable one-on-one matchups.

The position, Pattrick said, is "the easiest way" to find a dangerous role for Brooks, who says he feels most himself "when another man's trying to stop me from getting somewhere."

Now, sitting in front of a wall-to-wall window that looks directly into Marauder Stadium, Brooks stares firmly across the conference table. 

"On the field, if there's another man in front of me, he's trying to stop me from getting to where I need to be," Brooks says. "It's a problem. And I'm going to make sure I get the job done."

Brooks adds, unblinking: "I don't believe in another man stopping me."

'I was going to make it work'

Brooks handed his 8-year-old sister, Zion, two letters.

It was late 2017. By the end of Brooks' junior season at Marcus, he had received scholarship letters from major programs across the nation. 

Florida State. Ohio State. Texas. Oklahoma. Oregon.

Baylor had been the first school to offer. That was when Brooks said "I knew I was going to make it. Even if I only got Baylor, I was going to make it work."

But he eventually received the two offers he wanted: Alabama and LSU.

And instead of tussling over the decision, Brooks realized his choice didn't really matter.

"I would still do what I do, and still make it where I need to make it," Brooks said. "But those are the top-level schools right there. You're going to go to Bama or LSU. God works in mysterious ways. I let my sister choose the school."

Zion held a letter from LSU in one hand, a letter from Alabama in the other.

Brooks told her: Drop the one you don't want me to go to.

Zion dropped Alabama.

"I said, 'OK.' I kept it between me and her," said Brooks, who still doesn't know why his sister chose LSU. "I always knew where I was going to go."

'He was searching for some things'

For most of Brooks' childhood, he didn't know where he was going. Born in San Jose, California, Brooks was a military kid, moving with his father, Will, to various naval bases across the country.

His parents were separated, and after spending the ninth grade in Virginia, Brooks moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to live with his mother, Dominique.

At first, Brooks attended a private school, Nolan Catholic, where he attended Mass every Thursday and learned in small classrooms of about 10 students.

By the end of Brooks' sophomore year, his mother moved about 30 miles north of Fort Worth to the incorporated town of Flower Mound, where Brooks could attend public school in an affluent area.

Pattrick said there were obstacles for Brooks to overcome at Marcus, which is 71.6 percent white and 3.9 percent black, according to the Texas Tribune.

"This is a hard place, this area, traditionally, to move into," Pattrick said. "Lot of people have lived here a long time. So, an outsider, it's kind of hard to break through that sometimes. Especially an outsider that's coming in, that's getting looks from Division I schools. He had to win some people over."

Brooks was also the oldest of five siblings who were spread out between parents, and he stumbled trying to find his way during his early teens.

Brooks said he was skipping school as a freshman in Virginia, where he said he even was kicked off the football team. Brooks said his grades suffered, which led to his father prohibiting him from playing basketball.

Even as Brooks came to Marcus, some of those same issues lingered.

"I think he was kind of searching for some things," Marauders head coach Kevin Atkinson said.

Brooks said he grew close to Atkinson. They talked every day, Brooks said, "through all my problems at home. Everything." 

Over time, Atkinson said he's seen Brooks "improve time and time again."

It's been a long journey for Brooks, and now, as the player leans back in his chair in the Marcus coaches office, he says there's still so much more to go.

He's mapped out a path to the NFL, where he hopes secure his life and take care of his mother.

And when Brooks reflects on his time at Marcus, he suddenly pauses for a long moment.

"You know, you can't just become a leader," Brooks says. "It takes building to become a leader. You need other leaders to lead you. There's a lot of leaders around here. If you keep getting led and keep getting led and they keep pushing you back in the box, keep pushing you back in the box, and not just letting you go free, like other schools will — you know what I mean? They'll just let you wander. These people will keep bringing you back in, bring you back in, bring you back in. ...

"Because you know my environment, where I was from growing up," Brooks says, "we didn't have too many leaders leading. And you went outside."

Brooks turns toward the window and sees a small boy running onto the field.

It's one of the Marcus cheerleader sponsor's kids. The boy has grown attached to Brooks, and Brooks had promised the boy he'd play football with him after school.

"I'm tripping," Brooks says, scratching his neck sheepishly. "I'm supposed to go play with that little boy."

Brooks passes through another office on his way out, where Atkinson sits behind a desk, working at his computer.

Soon, Brooks is jogging the length of the field, the boy giving chase near his knees.

"He's just a unique person," Atkinson says. "He knows where he wants to go."