Moving to the next phase

WOODBRIDGE — Hylton High School senior Ahmad Brooks stepped right out of football season and into football recruiting season.

It’s not that he hadn’t already heard from schools; recruiting coordinators from Brooks’ top five schools and so many more have stopped by Spriggs Road. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer visited Hylton in the spring. Virginia counterpart Al Groh watched the Bulldogs’ season opener at Stonewall Jackson.

But as busy as the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder’s schedule was this fall, that was only the beginning.

“He was totally focused on Hylton,” said Ahmad’s father, former Washington Redskin defensive lineman Perry Brooks. “Now we have people coming over almost every night.”

Virginia defensive coordinator Al Golden and several other Cavalier coaches visited the family for Chinese takeout on Monday night. Tennessee assistant Larry Slade, who primarily coaches defensive backs but also works with linebackers, was in the house one evening last week the same week the Volunteers had to prepare for a top-five matchup at Florida. Representatives from Virginia Tech are coming next week, with Florida State and Penn State also on the docket for unfinalized dates.

The only college game Brooks saw this year was the Hokies’ win in Charlottesville last month. He plans to take official visits (with expenses paid for him and his parents) to each of the aforementioned schools, beginning with Virginia Tech on Dec. 14 and continuing with the other four in January.

His first concern is getting the necessary standardized test score to play Division I-A football. The SATs were last offered on Saturday, when Brooks and the Bulldogs were in a state playoff game. So his next shot to qualify will be this Saturday when he takes the ACT.

“I’ve been studying. I have an ACT program on my computer that has questions sorted out in different portions, with strategy on how to take it,” Brooks said. “That helps you out a lot, tells you how to eliminate answers. It’s like a little one-on-one tutor.”

In the past four years, Hylton won two state titles and went 37-1 in games in which Brooks played. A force at middle linebacker (and at running back in high school), he’s the kind of recruit that coaches think could turn a decent recruiting class into a stellar one. He averaged 16 tackles a game in his senior year as Hylton won its fourth straight Northwest Region, Division 6 title before falling in the state semifinals. His final defensive statistics in 13 games this year: 207 tackles (including 144 solo and 34 for a loss), five forced fumbles, three sacks, one interception, 16 quarterback pressures and two fumble recoveries.

After missing all but two games of his junior season because of an ankle injury, Brooks quickly showed the same form that made him an all-state linebacker as a sophomore. “Defensively he looked like he didn’t miss a beat,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said. “As far as offense goes, he was getting back in the swing of things about the fourth game. He got in better and better shape.”

Brooks had planned to start playing for Hylton’s basketball team immediately after football season ended, but he’s taking this week off. He hurt the same ankle during last Saturday’s loss at Thomas Dale in the state semifinals. “He’s not playing [basketball] this week. Of course I say that, and he’s probably at the school working out,” Perry Brooks said, knowing full well that his son knows only one speed. “It’s OK for him to shoot this week, but he won’t be in any games yet.”

Until the end of November, coaches were not permitted to speak face-to-face with this year’s senior class of prospects. Brooks has a truckload of mail and he has seen coaches — Groh was standing outside Hylton’s locker room at the game at Stonewall — but now comes the interview process. Each school is allowed to meet with Brooks once a week between now and the national signing date of Feb. 6 (excluding a dead period around Christmas).

Monday, just two days after the Bulldogs’ season ended, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster paid Hylton a visit. Then U.Va. had the nighttime slot on Brooks’ schedule. Virginia’s trying to add to a group of verbal commitments that includes two players from Potomac defensive tackle Keenan Carter and defensive back Antwan Stewart.

Tuesday, Brooks went to FedEx Field for a newspaper photo opportunity and then returned to Hylton for a television interview. Earlier in the day, Brooks met with Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Johnson told Brooks and Brown that Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history, would stop by next month. Florida State’s assistants have said that their boss, Bobby Bowden (the second winningest active coach), will be by in the near future.

Not to be outdone, Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer has called Brown frequently this season. “I know that if Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are here, Phil Fulmer will have to be,” Brown said.

And college coaches, sportswriters and sportscasters aren’t the only people vying for Brooks’ time. Thursday, a U.S. Army All-American Bowl representative is scheduled to present Brooks with his uniform for this year’s game, which will be held Jan. 5 in San Antonio. That will be yet another opportunity for Brooks to see and be seen.

“I’m excited to see where I stand,” he said. “And it’ll be on ESPN2, so I know a lot of people will be watching.”

As if they weren’t already watching.

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