By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Durant Brooks heard the words "Just a punter" a lot.
But he never really bought into that. Instead, he gave that way of thinking and the negativity surrounding his position the boot.
"I wasn't `just' a punter, and I hated that notion that kickers or punters would get," Brooks said. "It's changed a little bit because I think teams are realizing the value of a good punter or kicker, but the locker room talk when I was playing was, `Kickers are lazy,' `They just kick or punt.' They don't give you credit until you hit the game-winning field goal or you're backed up on your one-foot line and you knock a 60-something-yard punt out of there."
Georgia Tech is giving Brooks credit and, you might say, his "Just desserts," bestowing upon him the highest honor available in the shortest amount of time possible.
In his first year of eligibility, Brooks is joining a talented sextet comprising the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2017. He'll join Roger Anderson (Tennis), Roberto Castro (Golf), B.J. Elder (Basketball), Ashley Kidd (Track and Field), and Matt Wieters (Baseball) at the induction, which takes place on Friday, Sept. 22, at the College Football Hall of Fame as part of Hall of Fame Weekend.
Brooks actually points to his special teams coach at Georgia Tech, Charles Kelly, for helping him mentally turn the stigma surrounding kickers.
"One of his biggest points to the team and to us was special teams can change a game, because there's usually one big play that happens on special teams -- you're either kicking a game-winning field goal, getting an extra point, running a kickoff back for a touchdown, on a punt pinning them inside the five-yard line," he said. "He showed us statistics, for example, punting, if a team started inside the 20, their chances of scoring. It drastically decreased when they started inside the 10 and so on. He showed that to everybody. It makes a huge difference in the outcome of a game."
He wasn't always the people's choice, especially on fourth-and-short, even if he was Coach Chan Gailey's.
"I did come onto the field a couple of times when it was fourth and one or two, and he decided to punt, and our home crowd was kind of booing," he recalled. "I took that as, `I'm going to show you. I'm going to get you to cheer when I put this inside the five.' Most of the time it happened that way. I would come off and they would be cheering."
The Macon native gave Tech fans plenty to cheer about. He set a new standard for Georgia Tech punters and THE standard for punters nationwide during the 2006 and 2607 seasons, when he averaged 45.3 yards a punt -- nearly four yards longer than the nearest Jacket (Rodney Williams, 41.4 from 1995-98) -- and was a finalist for the prestigious Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter, winning it his second season.
Brooks actually was associated with Guy long before that. While in high school he attended summer camps held by the 14-year NFL veteran, six-time All-Pro, and the only pure punter ever to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (23rd overall by the Oakland Raiders in 1973).
He actually owes the opportunity to a chance encounter between Guy and his mom. Both were from the Thomson, Ga., area and were horse enthusiasts.
"He went to look at a horse for his daughter. My mom was into horses and was selling them a lot at the time, riding them," Brooks recalled. "She mentioned to him that I was punting in high school. He was like, `Well, he needs to come to my camp.'"
Durant, who credited his horse-riding for his leg strength, showed up and quickly opened eyes. Among those opened eyes were the ones of then-Jackets punter Andy Thomson and former punter Dan Dyke, who were at the camp.
"We were doing a drill where we're trying to basically punt a field goal," he recalled. "The first punt, I punted from the 50-yard line directly center for a field goal. Dan and Andy were like, `Wow! You're a junior in high school and you're doing this?' Going to those camps and punting with those guys it kind of struck me that, `Hey, maybe I do have the ability to punt at the next level.'"
After spending two years at Georgia Millitary School, Brooks transferred to Georgia Tech in 2005, won the starting job for the Jackets in 2006 and took punting to the next level.
He punted 79 times for 3,596 yards that first season. The 79 kicks are third-most in a season in school history, while the yardage ranks second. Only Jeff Pierce had more kicks and yards, accounting for 3,609 yards in 1980, while needing 88 kicks -- both are still school records. Brooks showed he could hit `em long, blasting 27 kicks at least 50 yards with a long of 63, and placed 35 kicks inside the 20. Only 11 times did his punts find the end zone.
The following season he again topped 45 yards per attempt (45.06, 2,929 yards in 65 punts), hit 30 punts over 50 yards, and dropped 33 inside the 20 with only nine touchbacks. He hit a career-long 77-yarder (tied for fourth-longest in school history) on Nov. 17, against North Carolina, capping a day in which he hit three of his four tries over 50 -- also recording 54- and 63-yard kicks.
His booming leg earned him first-team All-America honors, and the Ray Guy Award, and would pay off in his getting drafted on the sixth round (168th overall) by the Washington Redskins -- despite being led on by Denver. He'd kick in six games for the Redskins in 2008, netting 32.1 yards per kick with a long of 60. He'd spend time with Green Bay, Philadelphia and finally play one exhibition game with Jacksonville in 2010, before finally deciding he wanted a more stable and steady lifestyle and hung up his cleats.
He and wife, the former Natanya Harper, a former Georgia Tech swimmer (she swam freestyle and butterfly sprints), currently live in Norcross and have two daughters, Harper, 4, and Maci, approaching her first birthday. He is currently in his sixth year working at Bardi Heating, Cooling and Plumbing, while she is an associate at the firm of Temple, Strickland, Dinges, and Schwartz in Atlanta.
Durant is grateful for his days at Georgia Tech and enjoys his dealings with Jackets fans who remember him as a player.
"In the mechanical world, the Georgia Tech degree, the Georgia Tech name goes a long way. There's a ton of Tech people in this industry and it's definitely helped me," he said. "There are some people, some Tech fans, on the general contracting side that still remember me. I'll send them an email and they'll be like, `Are you Durant Brooks that played?' I'm like, `Yeah, that's me.' So it's pretty cool that people still, 10 years later, can remember what I did at Tech."
He's also grateful for the upcoming induction.
"I never thought about it until my wife and I went to the ceremony last year, when Calvin (Johnson) and Jarrett Jack and those guys got inducted," he said. "I still have some fans or some people I work with that were like, `When are YOU going into the Hall of Fame?' I was like, `I don't know. I was just a punter.' At one point after the ceremony I looked at the requirements to go into the Hall of Fame and I cleared a good number of them. I was like, `Maybe I could go.' I definitely didn't think it would happen the first year of eligibility for it but I was like, `This would be really, really cool if it were to happen.'"
Brooks is the second punter in three years to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, as Dyke went in as part of the Class of 2015. Placekicker Luke Manget went in in 2014.
He's proud to join him in the Hall and prouder of the respect being shown his position.
"It's pretty cool to start to get the recognition for specialists," Brooks said. "It's pretty cool to follow with him. Dan is on a different level as far as his smarts. I think he won all these academic accolades. It's a brotherhood that you get to join and talk about, talk about your years at Tech and punting and those things. It's definitely pretty cool."
Brooks, who will have Natanya introduce him, plans to have Harper and Maci as well as much of his family there. He's hoping Guy and fellow Thomson native and former Yellow Jacket Eddie Lee Ivery (Class of `78, Hall of Fame Class of `83) also will attend.
He's excited for people to see that kickers are pretty cool.
It's an idea that even HE is coming around to.
"When I was playing in the NFL and in college, I didn't look at records or averages or anything like that, but now I have a whole different career," he said. "To look back at the record books or the stats or whatever, it IS pretty cool. It IS pretty amazing what I was able to do. Now I can kind of take it in and show my kids what I used to could do."