How an injury made TCU linebacker Marcel Brooks a better man and teammate

The light appeared to be finally coming on for TCU linebacker Marcel Brooks in the preseason.

The former five-star recruit was bigger, stronger and in a role that played to his strengths with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie.

Brooks regularly flashed through the early portion of fall camp.

Then adversity struck as Brooks was sidelined with a unique injury that would keep him out most of August and September.

“It’s weird, it was a rib injury, but it was kind of in your shoulder. That was new to me. So it was kind of both as odd as that is,” head coach Sonny Dykes said.

It seemed to be yet another road block to what had started off as a promising career. Brooks knew he had two different paths to choose from after he was hurt.

“When I got hurt, I was thinking about it two ways, I could go about it my way or the team way,” Brooks said. He chose the team way and emerged as a better person and player for the Horned Frogs.

A winding journey

To understand Brooks’ growth you have to start at the beginning. Brooks was rated as the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the country coming out of Flower Mound in the Class of 2019.

He initially signed with LSU and burst onto the scene during the Tigers’ national championship run as a promising edge rusher. He had a sack against Florida in a primetime game and had another later in the season against Texas A&M.

You can imagine the hype and expectations that surrounded him when he arrived at TCU in 2020. Despite his talent and early flashes Brooks never really carved out a role under Gary Patterson.

He played in just six games in 2020. He then moved to receiver briefly in 2021 and played in eight games while catching five passes for 46 yards. It wasn’t what he expected when made the transition to Fort Worth.

“I think Marcel has felt like he’s missed some opportunities up to this point to be a productive football player for a variety of reasons. Whatever they are it doesn’t really matter,” Dykes said. “Going into this season he was really hungry to prove himself.”

Gillespie’s arrival offered a new, simpler role for him on defense. The nutrition plan from Kaz Kazadi allowed him to take the next step physically.

Everything seemed to be coming together before his injury. The things he dealt with as he grappled with a new school and smaller role helped him develop the mental fortitude to not let it be a setback.

“Being hurt and them telling me I was going to be out eight weeks when I broke the first bone, it was really hard mentally but then I started to think I didn’t want to be selfish about the situation,” Brooks said. “ I thought I could see the situation where I could turn into a coach; if I could start coaching my teammates and start being a better teammate instead of just thinking about myself.”

That was the type of response Dykes and Gillespie wanted to see from one of the most talented players on defense.

“It was really important for Marcel to hold it together emotionally and look this isn’t what I wanted, but it is what it is. That’s the conversation he, myself and Coach Gillespie had. None of us wanted this, but here it is and let’s try to turn this into an opportunity,” Dykes said.

Coach Brooks

Watching from the sidelines was tough, but it didn’t mean that Brooks couldn’t use that time to his advantage. He watched closely as Dee Winters and Johnny Hodges flew around the ball against Colorado and Tarleton.

He imagined himself being in that position when he returned, but it wasn’t just about himself. He wanted to use his eyes and vantage point to help them thrive too. Helping them was also helping himself.

“Just being able to coach them guys and being able to stay in the mix and get as many mental reps as possible,” Brooks said. “It’s hard when you get hurt but at the same time if you think about being hurt then when you come back you’re going to start playing slow.”

As he began to see how the process of coaching his teammates up was also making him better, Brooks started to enjoy his role as a pseudo coach.

“I think I was really a pretty good coach,” Brooks said with a laugh. “I was able to bring all the energy outside of the pads and not being in the pads and being able to still bring that energy and bring that juice, it was really fun.”

His energy was infectious and impressed Dykes.

“He showed a lot of maturity. He’s an enthusiastic guy. He loves to play, Marcel in a weird sort of way views this as a second chance and wants to take advantage of it,” Dykes said. “We took him on trips because he was so positive, he was so upbeat and such a good leader. He’s been traveling with our team even though he wasn’t available because of that.”

A good example of that positive attitude could be seen before TCU kicked off with Tarleton. Brooks was on the field during pregame, wearing his No. 9 jersey and shorts swaying to the music and sounds of Amon G. Carter Stadium. Had he not been in street clothes, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that he wasn’t going to play.

Sometimes you have to lose something to gain an appreciation for it. From a tough injury Brooks emerged as a better version of himself.

“I would say I became a better man from the injury than when I was just playing football. I kind of learned more about being a man, being able to be patient, being able to be a teammate, being able to become that leader role I wanted to become early in the season,” Brooks said.

His growth as a person allowed him to make an immediate impact in his first action of the season.

The return

Brooks suited up for TCU’s win over SMU, but didn’t return to the field until the dominant 55-24 win over Oklahoma this past Saturday.

When Johnny Hodges went down briefly for a few series, Brooks filled in nicely. He ended up having three tackles, matching his defensive production in 2020 and 2021 combined, and also gave the TCU pass rush more juice against one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

“But, coming into the game I started to see we went down at linebacker so I had to step up and play that role,” Brooks said. “I feel like I’m at home now. Being able to just pass rush and just pass rush from ten yards back has been a little bit better. Coach Gillespie has given everyone on our team a blessing to be able to not think as much on the defensive side of the ball and be able to go downhill and be able to attack.””

As he took time to recover on the sidelines, Hodges noticed Brooks’ impact immediately.

“Marcel came in and he’s a freak at pass rush. He really helped us out,” Hodges said.

That added boost to the pass rush made life easier for TCU’s secondary as well.

“I’m really, I’m really happy to have Marcel back. He’s great at edge rushing, he creates havoc for the quarterbacks which will allow us to make more plays on the ball, so I’m really excited to have him back,” Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson said.

It was the type of performance Brooks had been thinking of having all those weeks he was sidelined.

“When they told me I was going to be playing against OU when I came back I just wanted to make sure I was mentally straight and was there for my team when the opportunity came,” Brooks said.

Brooks will be a key piece for TCU going forward. The Horned Frogs are strong at linebacker, but not particularly deep with season-ending injuries to Thomas Armstrong and Terrence Cooks.

TCU will need Brooks to play a big role going forward and he’s ready for the moment.

“I just really like doing my job and doing what I need to do and if that helps the team that’s great,” Brooks said.