On Aug. 31, Andrea Simmons-Brooks said she was a nervous wreck as she waited by her cell phone anxiously awaiting a potential life-changing call from her youngest son.
Twenty-four year old Jourdan Brooks, a 2007 Seneca Valley High School graduate, also was waiting to hear if he would make the Cincinnati Bengals final 53-man roster.
Simmons-Brooks sat in front of her computer constantly refreshing the National Football League franchise's website until Brooks, 24, called later in the day. He informed his mother that he was going to be waived, but would be re-signed the next day to the Bengals eight-member practice squad.
“My stomach was in knots all day,” Simmons-Brooks said. “When Jourdan called, he told me he was going to cut, but I was surprised he didn't sound too down. Fortunately, he made it through waivers and got signed.”
Brooks' journey to the NFL is an unlikely story. Following a strong tenure as three-star college recruit at Seneca Valley, he committed to Rutgers (N.J.) University.
In Piscataway, Brooks, whose first passion was baseball, was thought to be the possible replacement to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. In three seasons, including a redshirt year, Brooks ran for nearly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns as a reserve.
During an ESPN nationally televised game in 2008, his career-best 62-yard run ended when Louisville's Travis Norton tackled him by one of his dreadlocks and ripped it out.
But due to a gradual decline in carries and a desire to move closer to home, Brooks transferred to Morgan State prior to the 2010 season. His father, Maurice, played linebacker for the Bears in the 1970s. Simmons-Brooks and several other family also graduated from the school.
At Morgan State, Brooks rushed for 459 yards on 154 carries during two seasons.
Following his final collegiate season last winter, Brooks began to explore his options. He eventually decided to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL, hired an agent and found a personal trainer.
“We saw his potential,” Seneca Valley coach Fred Kim said. “Obviously once he went to Rutgers anything could happen. … We are surprised he's in the NFL because it is so hard to get there, but at the same time, we are not surprised because he had the talent.”
At Morgan State's pro day, the 6-foot, 230-pound back ran a 4.65 second 40-yard dash, 7.27 second three-cone drill and recorded a 32-inch vertical jump. Brooks went undrafted and unsigned as a rookie free agent, but the performance did earn himself an invite to the Bengals' rookie camp.
“The tryout was over Mother's Day weekend,” Simmons-Brooks said. “That was one of the best presents I could ever ask for.”
Brooks impressed the coaching staff enough that they signed him and he participated in the team's offseason programs and made it through training camp. He credits veteran Bengals running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brian Leonard and Chris Pressley for helping him transition to the NFL.
“The past six months have been nothing but hard work,” Brooks said. “I had plenty of distractions especially with trying to finish up school, but I was able to buckle down. …
“I had nothing to lose since I was last on the depth chart. All I wanted was a chance and I got more than that. I just tried to put my best stuff on tape.”
During the preseason, Brooks played in all four games and rushed for 18 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts. He also had two catches for 13 yards.
The score came during Cincinnati's second preseason game, a 24-19 victory at Atlanta, and his family was in attendance.
“That was special,” Brooks said. “I was talking to my aunt when they came to the hotel to visit me and she said she had a feeling I was going to get a touchdown. I just wanted to leave my mark on the NFL.”
Practice squad members do not dress on game day and receive a minimum of $5,700 per week, according to NFL.com. Players are eligible for the practice squad if they have not accrued a season of free agent eligibility. They may negotiate a deal with any other NFL team as long as they are signed to that team's 53-man active roster.
Although his ultimate goal is to play in a regular season game, Brooks knows nothing is guaranteed. He already has overcome the odds.
Brooks also plans to return to Morgan State in the spring and finish his sociology degree.
“I just got to soak this whole experience in and make the most of it,” he said. “It still is hard to believe this is really happening. Who knows how long it will last?”