Rarely do two feverish fanbases, who make no bones about how they feel about each other, rally around a common cause. That seems to have happened ahead of this year’s Arkansas vs LSU showdown.
In light of LSU defensive back Greg Brooks Jr. being diagnosed with a brain tumor – and having it removed last Friday – less than two years after leaving the Arkansas football program, Saturday’s game almost feels secondary this week, with both the purple and gold along with Razorback Red all equally concerned for Brooks’ well-being.
Brooks spent his first three seasons at Arkansas, starting 30 games and totaling 112 tackles, before deciding to return home to finish out his college career. The Harvey, La., native turned in a stellar 2022 campaign, making a career-high 66 tackles, and was slated to become perhaps LSU’s best player in the secondary this year.
Thanks to the transfer portal, Brooks is getting a massive outpouring of love from both programs at the most unlikely time, just days before the annual Battle for the Golden Boot and at a time when Brooks needs it most.
Transfer Portal Gives Brooks Double the Love
For all the criticism of the transfer portal and worries people have about the end of amateur sports as we know them, stories like this aren’t possible without it.
All the concerns that college football has become NFL lite, where the biggest markets and the schools with the most resources will always win the arms race for recruits, feel insignificant in rare situations like this.
Brooks transferred to be closer to home, and being close to home is critical in times of tragedy. Having the support of both teams as Brooks embarks on the fight of his life shouldn’t be overlooked. There are Razorback players and fans alike who remember the 2021 season when Brooks was here on the Hill, and thanks to the portal, he now gets the community support of the purple and gold, too.
Sport is unique in its ability to bring people together despite differing allegiances. The storytelling of incredible athletes and coaches both on and off the field trumps all else. There are few more gut-wrenching moments than the Brooks situation, so the transfer portal becoming an agent to bring people closer, not rip them apart, is refreshing for a change.
Greg Brooks Jr. and his Impact at Arkansas
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman had plenty to say about the impact that Brooks has had on the program, especially at the beginning of his tenure.
“We hadn’t won an SEC game in 20-something games,” Pittman said. “We go to Mississippi State and Greg picks a pass for the first touchdown of the game and takes it all the way back for seven. It kind of sprung us into that win. I’ll never forget that and the look on his face after that pick-6.”
That’s the kind of impact this game can have on people. The entire state of Arkansas had waited for that win for nearly three years, and it goes without saying that with no players, there would be no moments to celebrate.
“Greg was (loyal) to us,” Pittman said on this week’s “Sam Pittman Live” show. “He decided to go back home and we understand all that. In the college football world, we’ve always been in the portal as coaches, we really have, and now the players are able to do it. We have to understand it.”
Indeed, coaches have always benefited from love from multiple fan bases as they job hop. Sure, Barry Switzer is primarily beloved in Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners to three national championships, but the Arkansas native is also an important Razorback given his playing days and early assistant coaching days in Fayetteville.
Frank Broyles was a Georgia Tech legend who became well known for his decades leading the Razorbacks while Darrell Royal was a Sooner who became defined by his decades leading his alma mater’s archrivals, the Texas Longhorns. Coincidentally, Broyles and Royal were close friends off the field as they conducted a heated rivalry on the field.
The portal has simply allowed what coaches have long enjoyed to trickle down to some players.
In the case of Greg Brooks, the LSU defense must quickly come to grips with the loss of their fourth-leading tackler from a year ago and a team captain, to boot.
“It’s tough, obviously, not having one of our leaders out there, but he gave us a message before the game to go out there and play and get the dub,” LSU linebacker Greg Penn III said. “That was very important for us to hear from him and we just wanted to go out there and play for him.”
Once the clock hits 6 p.m. on Saturday, rest assured the rivalry will be as heated as ever. Still, in the wake of whatever gut-wrenching moments happen in Baton Rouge, four hours later maybe we can all remember some of the bond bringing us together in the stadium and around our TV screens in the first place and how the transfer portal helped make it happen, all while remembering that someone dear to both sides is battling for his life.
Update from LSU Football Coach Brian Kelly
After initially not revealing any details about his condition other than calling it a “medical emergency,” LSU football coach Brian Kelly opened up about what Greg Brooks Jr. is dealing with on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday.
After missing a week of practice during fall camp because he experienced vertigo, Brooks “had another episode” of dizziness last Wednesday, Kelly said. At that point, he was sent in for an MRI and that’s when the tumor was discovered.
Asked if he might be able to play again this season, the Tigers’ third-year coach said there were too many unknowns to give an answer.
“I don’t even know that I could even begin to give you the medical pieces relative to the surgery to even give you an educated answer to that,” Kelly said. “I saw him in the hospital on Sunday. He was still coming out of a heavy sedation, so we weren’t able to have a lucid conversation. I know before he went in, he was pretty clear about playing again this year, but that’s Greg Brooks.”
Of course, there are bigger and more important hurdles to clear before worrying about whether or not he’ll be able to play again. What is certain, though, is that he’ll have people from both sides of the Arkansas vs LSU rivalry rooting for a full recovery.
Hear Brian Kelly and Sam Pittman discuss Greg Brooks Jr. on this week’s SEC coaches teleconference:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…