Larry and Amy Thompson and their son, JT, of Fortson, Ga., took a chance on Derrius Brooks 5½ years ago and welcomed him into their family because they believed he was better than his troubled past. Saturday night, the Cincinnati Bengals also took a chance on Brooks because they also believe he has a bright future.
Brooks, a former Harris County High standout and Western Kentucky cornerback, signed a three-year contract as a free agent with the Bengals, who plan to use him
mostly on special teams.
"It's a blessing," Brooks said Sunday. "The Thompsons took me in, got me on the right path, focusing on school and football. They helped get me through."
"He needed some direction," said Larry, now Brooks' legal guardian. "He needed somebody to have his best interest at heart, just give him stability and a family unit."
Kelcie McCray, a safety from Hardaway High and Arkansas State, is another local product who signed a free-agent contract with an NFL team after the draft. He opted for the Miami Dolphins.
"I thought I'd be drafted," McCray said. "I was projected between the fourth and seventh rounds, but once the draft was over, I had a lot of offers to sign. Miami was the best one, because they didn't draft one DB in the whole draft, so I could compete."
McCray (6-foot-1½, 202 pounds) played strong safety at Arkansas State but expects to be used as a free safety in Miami.
"With my diversity," he said, "I actually can play both.".
Brooks earned second-team All-Sun Belt Conference and a spot on the North roster for the 2012 Players All-Star Classic after his senior season in 2011, following a switch from wide receiver. At 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, Brooks said his coaches told him he could try to compete for playing time with 6-foot-4 receivers or try to cover them.
"I wanted a shot at making money in the NFL," he said with a laugh.
Although he ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash at one of Western Kentucky's pro days, he wasn't picked in last week's NFL draft.
But that might end up being another blessing, Larry said, just as that fateful weekend when JT brought home Brooks for a "visit" that hasn't ended.
"The Bengals told him they'd like him to become their primary return guy and to play special teams," Larry said. "That's where they think he can make an immediate impact.
"He's come a long way," Larry continued. "Our main focus was to help him get to college and get an education. He's turned it into what it's turned into. And I'll credit our son, JT. He believed in him more than anybody. He calls him his brother, and we call him our son. He is so humbled by everything that is going on. His attitude is that he's going to make it."
Larry owns Grand Slam Sports, which runs baseball and softball tournaments for travel teams in the Southeast. Amy is the technology coordinator at Britt David Magnet Academy. JT is a junior at LaGrange College.
Harris County football coach Tommy Parks said Brooks is the first former Tiger in his 10 years at the school to sign with an NFL team and might be the only one ever.
"If there was somebody else, I don't know about it." Parks said. "Everybody is so excited about this; they've been blowing my phone up."
Parks remembers Brooks as a speedy fifth-grader who turned into a multi-position star in high school -- and developed into a fine young man.
"He played running back, cornerback, safety, just a kid who really grew up and got better and better," Parks said. "He works hard and deserves everything he gets."
Brooks intends to use the support in Harris County to boost his chances in Cincinnati.
"For everybody who sticks up for me," he said, "that motivates me to not let anyone down."