Watching young, talented players have their Eureka moment first hand is something truly special in athletics. It's an almost sacred occurrence that fans and coaches are always eagerly anticipating, hand picking players they deem special from lower levels of competition and waiting for the moment when they blossom on the big stage.
For Jordyn Brooks, the flip visibly switched on Friday, November 25th when Tech shocked Baylor in Arlington last fall.
The then-true freshman linebacker found himself that afternoon in the Metroplex, zoning in for an eye-popping 18 tackles and the first forced fumble of his career. The monster afternoon was the best day by a Red Raider linebacker since Will Smith in 2013, and it helped him become the first freshman to lead Tech in tackles for a season in the Big 12 era. In fact, the record goes back further than that. Zach Thomas didn't do that. Lawrence Flugence never accomplished that. Bront Bird, Brian Duncan, and Marlon Williams never sniffed that.
But the young pup from H-Town? He sure did.
As Brooks will tell you, his mind was running a million miles a minute early on in the year. But once things started slowing down, once he started putting the pieces together around the halfway point, his true transformation began.
"The first half of the season, I was kind of all over the place, honestly. I'd have a good game, and then I wouldn't have any idea what I was doing. Once we got later on into the season, I really started picking up more and started playing better. I think that's one of the great things coming into this season. I'm just a lot more familiar with the playbook and the speed of the game, the physicality of the game."
On top of that, and what many didn't realize at the time, Brooks was playing with a shoulder injury, which isn't exactly conducive to playing linebacker. Once the season was in the books, the former Stratford High School star had shoulder surgery and began the long path of rehab back to health, missing the entire spring as a result.
"It was nerve wracking, for sure," said Brooks. "During the spring, it was really nerve wracking. There were times I really just wanted to be out there with my teammates. So, I had to make sure to stick to the schedule with my rehab and get back healthy."
For much of 2016, Brooks was really a one man show at linebacker for Tech. It was up to him to make many of the plays throughout the season, as the rest of the unit was either banged up or flat out not ready to compete at the Big 12 level.
The tides seem ready to turn for the position group, however, as Dakota Allen has returned to the fold after a year in junior college, freshman Riko Jeffers is a big, athletic body now in the mix, and with Brooks on the shelf during the spring, the rest of the unit got all the practice reps.
"We feel rejuvenated. Dakota's coming back, I'm coming back off the injury," said the sophomore linebacker. "Brayden Stringer, Christian Taylor, Jamile Johnson, all those guys got a bunch of extra reps in the spring, and that's just going to help everybody out."
And speaking of Dakota Allen, he and Brooks have really started to get to know one another. They crossed paths initially when Tech was recruiting Brooks a year and a half ago. However, with Allen's removal from the team, the two never spent much time together on campus until this spring.
"He's one of the good guys on the team," said Brooks. "His situation and knowing him before that happened, I would've never thought that's something that would've happened. But, I've been getting to know him, and we've really been hanging out a lot lately. He's a good guy, and I think his presence in the locker room is going to make us just that much better."
In fact, Brooks would tell you he's much more than simply a presence.
"He's one of the leaders on this team. He's been through it all. He's played at this level before, and he's got some games under his belt. His experience is really going to help us out. He's experienced all this before, knows what's going to happen, and that's just going to make this whole linebacking group better."
And now, this linebacking corps with Brooks, Allen, and the rest of the crew will take their shot at a major bounce back season as a unit. The sophomore LB believes that turnaround truly starts with a change in mentality.
"I think having an edge. At times last year we would play lazy, and laziness will get you beat. Coach Spav talks all the time with us about playing with an edge. You've got to have an edge, especially with our position. We're the quarterbacks of the defense, so we have to have an edge. I really think that's something that's changed."
That edge Brooks wants his unit to have has found some fuel, too. It's no secret that the Red Raiders have been flat out awful defensively for some time now, long enough that the Tech defense has become somewhat of a punching bag in media circles, and very few folks are expecting much to change in 2017.
Players on the team read those words, too. Brooks and his teammates are betting on themselves, and they're using what's being said about them as motivation.
"Excitement. We were last in the country, so we can't get any worse, right? We can only get better. I think what really gets us excited is how so many people outside of Texas Tech are talking about us. I don't know what magazine it was, but they had us second to last in the Big 12. That's all motivation we're using to get better."