In the late 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, Notre Dame was one of the top programs in college football.
Led by head coach Lou Holtz, the Fighting Irish went a perfect 12-0 and won a national championship in 1988. From that year up until the 1993 season, Notre Dame went 64-9-1.
Players like tight end Irv Smith and fullback Jerome Bettis helped lead the Irish to that success, but one player in particular had a huge effect on all of the victories as well.
Running back Reggie Brooks played at Notre Dame from 1989-1992, rushing for 1,508 yards and 15 touchdowns in that span. His breakout year came in 1992, where he ran for 1,343 yards and 13 touchdowns during a 10-1-1 season. His efforts earned him fifth place in the Heisman Trophy voting that year. He’d later become a second round pick for the Washington Redskins during the 1993 NFL Draft.
Since his playing days, he’s worked at Notre Dame with Fighting Irish Digital Media and now he’s a part of the Holtz’s Heroes non-profit organization.
Recently, with the help of long-time Notre Dame senior associate athletic director John Heisler and Bettis, Brooks wrote a book titled “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.”
Within the 333-page book, Brooks highlights Notre Dame teams from the past and present and gives the reader an inside look at his football journey through his time at Notre Dame and beyond.
The Goshen News got the opportunity to talk with Brooks about the book and his playing career at both Notre Dame and in the NFL. This is part one of our two-part conversation with the former Irish standout.
Q: What inspired you to do this? Was writing a book always something you wanted to do?
Brooks: Oh yeah. It actually came at the perfect time. The book came before I made the determination that I was going to make the transition away from Notre Dame. Having been on as a student, as an athlete, an alum and someone who’s worked at the university, you get a better perspective of the nuanced aspects of the university. Doing the book when they asked was basically a no-brainer because I do have such a unique perspective, because my interactions and relationships with guys who played before me, when I played and then after. That really set the tone for what this book is about. Again, it’s about the in’s and out’s of Notre Dame as it relates to my perspective, but more so that continuation of how, when Notre Dame football is at its best, is good for college athletics and the communities. It goes beyond just your four years at an institution. It becomes a part of life for you and those that you played with.
Q: Was the process of working on this book what you expected?
Brooks: Actually, if it wasn’t for John Heisler, there was no way I was going to do this. It just seems so daunting to write a book. And Heisler is a constant professional. He’s written multiple books about Notre Dame, so having him on board was paramount. I have such a trust and admiration for his understanding of Notre Dame athletics and his connection to Notre Dame. Nobody could’ve pulled the stories out of me or the different things that are in the book but him. So I have to give kudos to John to be able to put this together in a cohesive manner.
Q: Will this be your only book? Or do you think in the future, you may get involved again?
Brooks: I’ve actually had some conversations with different people about doing something more. Not so much focused on the football side of it, because being with Holtz’s Heroes, this has given me time to genuinely reflect on the different relationships that I’ve built while at Notre Dame. Because from that era (of when I played) you have six College Football Hall of Famers. Maybe that’s not that big of a deal, but to me, that’s pretty huge. Also seeing the individuals that were there and the impact that they had on me, and then those that we’ve lost. I think it’d be interesting to hear the stories of guys from that era that we’ve lost that people have a concept of but don’t really know. So I won’t say this is the end all. There are stories that I didn’t get to that don’t necessarily pertain to Notre Dame football, like with Notre Dame greats from other sports and the coaches as well.
Q: How was the process of working with John Heisler and Jerome Bettis who helped put together this book?
Brooks: I’ve worked with John because I did some work with Fighting Irish Media. That was probably the easiest part for me. I think I had the easy part. Basically he had to decipher my rambling and the stories that I had. The great thing about it was that he had context for it because it happened at Notre Dame. He was able to add nuance to the perspective that I had and also add the intricate pieces of the specifics that I may not have recalled that he remembered. He’s pretty good about getting stories out of me that I would forget about.
When it came to Jerome, that was a no-brainer because that was my backfield mate. And we had a lot of similarities. He was from Detroit and I was from Tulsa, but his dad was a postal worker like my dad was. And our folks would sometimes sit next to each other at the games. I remember not too long ago when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Notre Dame brought him back to acknowledge him. And his mom came back and that really blessed me to no end. Getting a chance to reflect and tell stories with her was great because you’re not just a former player. This isn’t just football, this is family. Jerome’s like my brother. There’s an instant connection there because we share common experiences not only at Notre Dame, but in life. So it just made sense for him to do the foreword because of the relationship that we’ve had and because he’s been such an integral part of my life over the years.
Q: The book is very detailed. There’s a lot of interesting stories and tidbits throughout. Are there certain parts that you enjoyed putting together the most?
Brooks: Yeah. Actually this was the difficult part for me. The part of kind of delving into the difficult times that I had at Notre Dame from a cultural standpoint. That was a real shock. So seeing how I progressed from 1989 to the early part of 1991, that’s when I wasn’t really kenned in to the Notre Dame experience. Notre Dame isn’t for everybody. It’ll bring out those qualities in you that you didn’t know you had. So in the book, chapters five, six and seven, even with the team’s success, those were probably some of the toughest years of my life. So to reflect back and know that I came through those with the help of my teammates and also my future wife at the time. The impact of being on that team helped me through some difficult times.
Part two of our conversation with Brooks will be on our website, goshennews.com, Tuesday morning and run in Wednesday’s print edition of The Goshen News.