ZZZippy's Guest Writer

Reggie Brooks: Reflecting On What I’ve Learned From My Fathers

Great leadership is tough to quantify, but it’s certainly easy to recognize. You hear many talk about the ‘it’ factor. In my forty-four years of living I have had the pleasure of encountering several great leaders. Whether it be coaches, team captains, captains of industry or church leaders; I have been impacted by a few extraordinary leaders. Of those individuals that I consider to be strong leaders and personal mentors to me: Tony Dungy, Lou Holtz, Ray Siegfried, Tony Rice and Anthony Johnson- however two others standout as most impactful. One is my father Raymond Brooks, who was instrumental in defining my character. The other is Father Theodore Hesburgh, who for me is the very essence of the Notre Dame spirit.

As an eighteen year old African-American male from Tulsa, Oklahoma, moving to South Bend was a major culture shock. I found myself in a strange place, an unfamiliar part of the country. I came to Notre Dame to play football for the defending national champions. I really struggled in my first two years at Our Lady’s University. Every aspect of Notre Dame was quite different from what I was accustomed. I faced depression and home sickness, athletic and academic difficulty, nothing seemed to work for me. I was so close to throwing in the towel and heading back to Tulsa, however my dad guided me through those tough times. He was instrumental in my decision to stick it out and honor my commitment. He forced me to really look at myself and to face challenges and not run from them. I followed his direction and completed my career at Notre Dame. I continued on to earn my degree. I also experienced a spectacular senior football season and went on to play professionally in the NFL with moderate success.

My transition from professional athletics was difficult but I adjusted and faced the challenges as I was taught- with dignity and character. It is during this time I lost my father who had been my compass for the majority of my life. I was working in the information technology field but I had no real direction. In 2003 I received a call from the Office of Information Technologies at the University of Notre Dame about a position. Unbeknownst to me I would soon find my way again.

I returned to Notre Dame in February of 2004 with my wife Christina, whom I met at ND and our four children. Upon returning to campus Christina and I visited The Grotto and as if by divine providence we encountered Father Ted near one of the two lakes on campus.

During my four years at Notre Dame I had never had the pleasure of meeting Father Hesburgh in person. I had heard several stories about him and his impact on civil rights, females being admitted to ND (which I am particularly grateful for since this provided me the opportunity to meet my wife of 20 plus years) and the resurgent growth of athletics.

Now here we stand, face to face with this iconic figure, possibly the most significant person to forward the advancement of Our Lady’s University outside of Father Sorin himself. The introduction provided one of the most profound moments of my life. This was the first of many interactions I would have with him over the next 11 years. I constantly reflect on this encounter because it was a major transition point in my life. It established for me my current philosophy- the most important aspect of a career or life is based on the relationships you build.

Great leaders place great value on relationships with people. Father Hesburgh’s ability to connect with an individual at the most basic level set him apart. It did not matter if you were the President of the United States of America or a student working in the student union he had the capacity to make you feel like the most important person in that moment in time. Three years after the passing of my father and my compass in life, Father Ted with his powerful aptitude to uplift set me back on course.

In my current role as director of student-athlete alumni relations and engagement I have heard multiple stories of how Father Ted cared for and guided young men and women through difficult situations. He set the bar high yet made it seems effortless. We lost Father Ted at the end of February 2015 but unlike with my father’s passing I am now equipped to maintain my course because a priest taught me the greatest value of leadership begins with building strong relationships.

Thank you Father Ted!

Reggie Brooks resides in South Bend, Indiana with his wife, Christina. He is the Director of Student-Athlete Alumni Relations and Engagement at The University Of Notre Dame. In 1992, as an All-America running back under former ND coach Lou Holtz, he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Reggie’s’ success as a player remains evident, as he holds ink throughout the Notre Dame record books. His career average of 7.6 yards per rush is still a school record, his 1,372 yards rushing in ‘92 ranks him third-best in single-season school history. Brooks also played four seasons in the NFL. The Washington Redskins selected him in the second round of the ‘93 NFL Draft (45th overall pick). He was named to the 1993 NFL All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America.

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