Blake Brooks, the first player from South Charleston to win the Hunt Award as the state’s top lineman in high school football and later a three-year regular at Marshall from 2012-14, died Friday. He was 29.
The 6-foot-1, 300-plus-pound Brooks was a key figure on the offensive and defensive lines as South Charleston captured back-to-back Class AAA championships in 2008-09.
“They nicknamed him ‘Big Cheese’ because he always had a big smile on his face,” said SC coach Donnie Mays, an assistant with the 2008-09 Black Eagles squads. “It was a fitting nickname.
“His teammates at South Charleston and I’m sure his teammates at Marshall and his family and anyone who knew him is hurting right now. It’s a sad day.”
Marshall coach Doc Holliday, who accepted Brooks as a walk-on transfer from Fairmont State in 2011 only to give him a scholarship the following season, also offered condolences on Twitter.
“He was a great player with a bright smile and an infectious personality,” Holliday said. “You couldn’t have a bad day around him. We’ll miss you, 52.”
An often larger-than-life figure, Brooks parlayed outstanding strength and surprising nimbleness at his size to become a force on the line, first at South Charleston, where he was selected to the All-State first team as both a junior and senior, helping the Black Eagles take two state titles.
Brooks developed into a monster in weight training, working alongside former SC head coach John Messinger, who died last November at age 66.
“He was a powerful human,” Mays said of Brooks. “He and Coach Mess used to live in the weight room together. They would do things where the other kids just had a jaw-dropping experience with the number of poundage on the bar.
“He was semi-superhuman until you talked to him. He was a giant of kid, but basically a teddy bear. If you knew him well enough, he was so likable and he made everybody laugh and want to have a good time.”
Brooks wanted to play Division I football after graduating from South Charleston, but had no scholarship offers. He went to Fairmont State and played 10 games in the 2010 season. Then came the invitation to walk on at Marshall, where he sat out the 2011 season as a transfer.
“It was very disappointing, honestly, to not have any (major college) offers at first,” Brooks said in a 2012 interview with HerdZone.com. “I was looking for a scholarship and it didn’t happen that way. Now I’m happy I got a chance here. It’s been great. It’s what I expected. It’s where I wanted to be all along. I finally got to Division I where I wanted, and now I work hard to prove I belong. You just keep working and see what happens.”
Brooks developed into a dependable option on the defensive line with the Thundering Herd. After spending the 2012 season as a defensive lineman, Brooks was switched to the O-line for his final two seasons, working under assistant coach Alex Mirabal, who’s now an offensive line coach at Oregon. He helped cap a successful 2013 season as the Herd rolled up 475 total yards in a 31-20 conquest of Maryland at the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland.
Brooks also maintained his reputation as a workout freak, leading the Thundering Herd team with a 440-pound bench press in 2012 as well as a team-best 630 pounds in the squat.
Mays said that Brooks, who still lived in Kanawha County, had recently talked about the possibility of becoming a volunteer assistant coach at South Charleston.
Funeral arrangements are pending.