Even in the doldrums of summer, the dog days were filled for Maryland linebacker Jalen Brooks. Since graduating with a degree in finance in May, Brooks has prepared for his redshirt senior year while figuring out his course load for what he plans to study in obtaining a master’s of science degree in business and administration.
In the meantime, Brooks is also working on expanding his role in two startups.
One is a fintech (financial technology) application he is helping fellow Maryland students David Potter and Abb Kapoor develop called CURU, short for Credit Guru, which according to Brooks gives its clients “calculated, actionable” recommendations on how to improve their credit score.
When CURU is having its expected public launch this fall, Brooks will be deeply involved in his other startup, which will be in its second year of operation. Brooks hopes to play a bigger part than he did in its first year — the rebuilding of the Maryland football program under second-year coach DJ Durkin.
Preseason training camp begins Thursday.
Brooks sees similarities between his two current ventures.
“I’ve said the biggest connection and comparison is that you have to view yourself as a product or a service. What service are you providing for the football team or a company?” Brooks said, sitting one July morning in the auditorium of the Gossett Team House.
“You basically have to take that product for your team or your school and be constantly improving. You’re always working on your added value. Obviously, the more valuable you become to your team or your company, that’s what helps you out.”
As a junior last season, Brooks had to learn a defensive scheme under Durkin and coordinator Andy Buh that was different from the one he played his first two seasons under former coach Randy Edsall. As a result of the Terps switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense, Brooks had to adjust to a smaller role and less playing time.
After starting 11 games as a sophomore, and finishing fifth on the team with 64 tackles, Brooks often found himself as the odd man out against spread offenses, which the Terps typically defended by using a nickel back to cover the slot receiver.
Though he played in all 13 games last season, Brooks made just four starts and was credited with only 28 tackles.
Still, Brooks said he felt he contributed to Maryland reaching a bowl game in Durkin’s first year, especially toward the end of what became a 6-7 season when the Terps faced teams that relied more on power running games.
“There were definitely games, like [against] Michigan State and Boston College, at the SAM position [outside linebacker] that were easily by far my most productive games of the season,” said Brooks, who had a season-high five tackles in a 28-17 upset of the Spartans at Maryland Stadium. “Even when you’re the SAM linebacker in a certain defensive scheme, people not being able to run the ball towards you is a lot more productive than an actual statistical number.”
Brooks said that despite making just three tackles in Maryland’s 36-30 loss to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl, Durkin and linebackers coach Matt Barnes came up to him in the team’s locker room at Ford Field in Detroit.
“The coaches said, ‘That’s the best game you’ve played,’ ” Brooks recalled. “Coach [Barnes] said, ‘Dude, I’m excited to coach you next year.’ ”
Recruited by several Ivy League schools, including Harvard and Yale, out of Gwinnett High in suburban Atlanta, Brooks opted for Maryland because he thought it would give him a better chance to play in the NFL while getting an opportunity for an undergraduate degree from one of the top business schools in the country.
“Because it’s a higher level of play, the coaching was something I took into account,” said Brooks, who was rated a three-star recruit. “These guys I’m playing for at Maryland, most of them have played some sort of Division I football and had some sort of NFL or professional football experience versus the Ivy League schools in terms of getting a higher quality of learning on the football.”
Despite his modest numbers last season, Brooks believes that the NFL is still a reachable goal based on several of his former teammates making the jump.
“In terms of doing enough, I feel there’s always room for improvement,” Brooks said. “But the mindset going into my senior year has probably been the most focused and aggressive that I’ve had in the past coming off a really good spring. It was probably my best spring practice. I played at a different level than I played before. If I keep improving, I definitely feel there’s an opportunity there [in the NFL.] I would definitely take it and run through the door with it.”
Brooks has combined his interests this summer. While spending a month with his startup teammates Potter and Kapoor at an accelerator/incubator program in Charlotte, N.C., Brooks also used a connection through Maryland strength coach Rick Court to work out there with a professional trainer and his NFL clients, including 11-year veteran running back DeAngelo Williams.
Potter said that the football and finance background Brooks brings to their team has been an asset.
“It takes conviction, and certain levels of mental feats that you have to accomplish to perform at that level, no matter what industry you’re in,” Potter said. “When it came to entrepreneurship, when I first met Jalen, he expressed a ton of interest in CURU. He was taking a ton of notes on what we were talking about and then the next day he came back with another notebook filled with notes based on research he had done after our conversation. Just that ambition and that drive to bring results was clear and evident.”
Darryl Brooks is not surprised in the direction the older of his two sons has taken. The elder Brooks and his wife, Leslie, have been entrepreneurs for much of their adult lives, and now run their own independent State Farm Insurance agency in Suwanee, Ga.
“I think he’s always been enterprising, more of a kind of like an explorer, interested in learning new things,” Darryl Brooks said. “I’m not surprised by it.”
Said Leslie Brooks: “He’s not the type of person to let grass grow under his feet. He’s definitely gotten that entrepreneurial spirit from his environment.”
Nor does it surprise his parents that their older son is involved with CURU.
“That’s one of his passions. He’s very good at money management and finance,” said his mother. “He’s always been cognizant of that and he’s always been mindful of budgeting and making sure he’s not wasteful of his money and paying his bills on time. It all kind of fits together.”
Brooks also gained an appreciation of going outside his comfort zone from his parents, who often took Brooks and his younger brother Cory, a 20-year-old computer science major at Georgia Tech, on trips to faraway places when they were growing up, including Europe, Mexico and Alaska.
Shortly after last season ended in late December, Brooks saw his world view expand even more when he joined teammate Wade Lees for the 28-year-old punter’s return home to Melbourne, Australia, to see his family during the school’s winter break.
“A lot of things about Australia were pretty eye-opening,” Brooks said. “I didn’t know much about Australia, but he was my buddy, I trusted him to show me the way. I was along for the ride.I love traveling and I’ve been to a few places, but Melbourne is probably the greatest city I’ve visited myself. I just fell in love with it.”
Brooks hopes to return someday, but for now the two startups are keeping him quite busy.
Even the dog days of summer, now about over, seemed to fly by.