Oct. 8, 2003
ABILENE, Texas - Hardin-Simmons' senior soccer player Jeff Brooks has been through the trials and tribulations of a college athlete and with some help has made it to his senior year.
Brooks is the only player from his 13-member freshman class to make it to his senior year. A lot had to do with academics and coaching changes, but Brooks was able to stick it out for four years.
"It has been a quick four years," said Brooks. "I have got to share my faith with a lot of teammates and I have memories that will last forever with me."
"They are night and day in some respects and some its the same," Brooks said. "Soccer is pretty much soccer. Coach Wardlaw was a lot more relaxed and didn't pay attention to detail as much as coach Heger.
"In a lot of ways it is sometimes frustrating how much we pay attention to details at times, but there is no denying the results."
The diminutive Denton native has seen both styles work at HSU.
"I liked coach Wardlaw our freshman year, I liked him all three years, but when we were freshman we had some born leaders that were seniors in Trevor (Harrison) and Brent (Camp). Coach was just hands off with that team because he had great senior leadership. There style fit in well with coach's style.
After they left it wasn't the same because we didn't have that strong leadership from the upperclassmen and the results were not as good because we were younger because we didn't have as much player direction as before.
With Heger, we have a bunch of young guys. Freshman that had not played and needed that structure. Both ways can work it is just a matter of the type of personalities you have on the team."
The humble Brooks started in what many consider to be the greatest soccer game in Hardin-Simmons history, a four overtime loss to No. 3 Trinity in the NCAA Tournament. But now his focus is on making new historic games for the record books.
"We have some amazing guys," said Brooks. "They can play. Someone asked me about being the only senior and I told them we are all on the same level, a bunch of them are on a lot higher level athletically, but on the field its not senior and freshman it is talent versus talent.
Being a senior, Brooks gets to do one of the things he enjoys most - sharing Christ with his teammates.
"It is cool being one of the older guys because I get to witness and show my spirituality to a lot of young, not young but younger guys, I am only three years older than them. I get to share some of the great things God has done for me to them."
"We have some amazing characters on this team and there is a lot of places for God to move and groove through them in the future and I am excited about that."
Brooks is the first to admit that he is not the most athletically gifted player. He often gets by on his intellect and skill rather than athleticism.
"When I get it done I am happy. I would love to be 6-3 and win headers like (Ryan) Flannigan or run a 4.4 and blow people away like (David) Salas. It is so much fun to watch them, because they are so talented at a young age, but I don't have those athletic gifts."
Brooks is in a role, coming off the bench, that is new for him. However, it doesn't get him down because of the team's success.
"It was hard at first. It is still hard. I have never been a 10-minute-a-half player my entire life. I would rather play 90 minutes than 20, but I would whole lot rather win 16 games, rather than just 10. Going 8-2-1 makes it a lot easier to not play as much. Knowing you are balling for a team that can ball, whatever it takes to get results, I am happy to do.
Brooks scored two goals in the Cowboys' most recent win a 6-0 victory over the University of Dallas. Brooks has scored three goals this season and has 11 goals and nine assists for his career. He has started 48 games in his career.
In his career, Brooks has played with some talented players, including All-Americans Brent Camp and Trevor Harrison. The Cowboys have some players on the team that could earn some national postseason honors.
"Trevor and Brent just seemed so much older to me when I was a freshman. Trevor would never burn anyone with speed like (James) Burton and (David) Salas and Brent is a different kind of keeper than (Ryan) Shaughnessy. It's hard to compare and contrast them but I know they can all play.
Playing with great players has been one of the highlights of his career and although there is just over a month left in his playing days, Brooks doesn't want the season to be cut short. A national title run is not out of the picture.
"We beat No. 5 Wheaton at there place and it was convincing in the first half. We held No. 1 Trinity scoreless for a half. If we really play there is no telling how far we can go."
"We have had a couple of games where we have played like the young team that we are. If that happens we won't go as far. But to put a limit to how far we can go would sell this team short. We have the potential, as we have shown, to play with the best teams in the country."
The Cowboys have developed a natural rivalry with cross-town ASC opponent McMurry.
"It stunk last year. But it has turned into a heated battle with those guys. I guess with coach Heger, It is fun to play in front of big crowds and fell some electricity from the crowd. We want to beat them that's for sure."
Playing in big games in college is nothing Brooks is a stranger to. Relaying that to his teammates he hopes he gets a chance to do.
"They are no strangers to this. They have played in big games, state championship games and know what it takes to play at high levels. I think the Wheaton experience was huge for this team. I try to let them know sometimes when it is brought up, what is like to play in an NCAA Tournament. I hope I can relay those experiences to them when we get to that point this year."
Brooks is not only a talented soccer player, but also maintains a 4.0 grade point average as a theology and math double major. How does one balance school and soccer?
"By the grace of God," said Brooks. "God blessed me academically with some gifts. It was nothing I did it was what He blessed me with. In college, especially playing soccer, God has just provided me with time to study. The more I depend on Him for study time, the more it comes. Maybe a practice goes short or I get a walk in a lab."
Coming to Hardin-Simmons was also a blessing from God.
"The Lord used coach Wardlaw. I was a week away from going to Southwestern. I was about to send in my housing deposit to a very expensive school and that would have sealed the deal. He called and wanted to know what I was doing one weekend, he invited me down for a visit and 7-on-7 tournament and I realized this was the place for me. This is where I was supposed to be and the Lord made that pretty clear to me."
As much success as he has had on the soccer field there is no hesitation when Brooks remembers his grandest memories of Hardin-Simmons.
"All the salvations," said Brooks. "Tony Kallas becoming a Christian our freshman year, Joey Martinez becoming a Christian our freshman year, Nick Pugh coming to the Lord as a sophomore, bar none those are my biggest memories. Soccer is great, but nothing compares to bringing souls to the Lord."