For Karekin Brooks, family means everything.
The junior running back from Marietta, Ga. talked about it with a smile.
“I have a really strong relationship with [my mother] and with all five of my brothers,” Brooks, who goes by the nickname ‘KK,’ said. “Everything we did, we always did it together. I always had somebody to talk to, somebody to play with.”
Brooks’ hometown of Marietta is a suburb outside of Atlanta, a place where family comes first but football comes in a close second.
Perhaps no one understands this better than coach Mo Dixon, who coached Brooks at Walton High School and is now the defensive coordinator at Colquitt County High School, a couple hundred miles south of Marietta.
When Dixon took over as head coach for Walton in the spring of 2014, Brooks already had a year of experience under his belt as the starting varsity running back, and the new head coach was impressed with his toughness and maturity.
“He’s been a grown man since I met him, I feel like,” Dixon said.
The two went on to build a tremendous relationship, with each having a great deal of mutual respect for the other.
“He brought a different feel to football for us,” Brooks said of Dixon. “When he came to Walton, he really taught us how to work hard, how to be fully committed to football and what you’re doing.”
Their close relationship was best described by Dixon when he talked about a phone call that he had with his former player just a few weeks ago.
“I’ve had KK on my mind over the last couple of weeks with the season starting,” Dixon said. “And on my phone, I changed the [lock screen] to a picture of KK...so when he called me, I had actually had [his] picture up on my phone as the wallpaper.”
Dixon is ecstatic to see what Brooks can do on the field during his remaining two seasons at Penn. But more than anything else, he is excited for Brooks’ future beyond football.
“He sets a good example,” Dixon said. “If half the world was like KK, it would be a great world...I’ve got tremendous respect for him, tremendous respect.”
When Brooks departed from the familiar countryside of Marietta, he not only had to get used to a new level of football but also a new way of life.
But over the past two years, Brooks has become a part of another family, right here in the city of Philadelphia.
“[Penn football] is a close-knit family,” Brooks said. “A bunch of different guys from a bunch of different places come here to play for one goal, and I like that a lot. I got a hundred plus people I can talk to at any time if I need help with anything...I can always count on them and lean on them.”
Brooks is happy to be here, and his teammates and coaches are sure happy that he’s here, too. As a sophomore last season, the tailback rushed for 840 yards and nine touchdowns, while averaging a school record 6.7 yards-per-carry.
“He absolutely exemplifies our mentality of being a hard hat offense,” offensive coordinator John Reagan said. “His ability to run the ball downhill and see things [is huge], and then when it’s time to bust it out, he does.”
Brooks has received a good amount of attention this offseason, being named to the College Football Performance Award (CFPA) FCS National Player of the Year Watch List, as well as the First Team All-Ivy list in Phil Steele’s FCS Preview Magazine. But he isn’t changing his mindset or attitude as a result.
“I’m the type of guy that leads by example by showing, with hard work and [doing] things correctly, the Penn way,” Brooks said. “To me, [the recognition] is just an opinion. I gotta go out and prove what I can do and who I am on the football field.”
While he still has two more years, Brooks already has his sights set on big things after his time at Penn.
“First, after I graduate, my grandpa has a barbecue business and I want to franchise that; that’s my first goal,” Brooks said. “And then after that, I want to become a sports agent and eventually own my own agency.”
Whether it’s his mother, grandfather, and five brothers back in Marietta or his coaches and teammates at Penn, Brooks makes the people around him his number one priority.
Because at the end of the day, KK Brooks knows that football comes and goes, but family is forever.