aymes Brooks first heard the news from a teammate.
"You're going in for Nick Marshman today," Sergio Render told him two Fridays ago as Virginia Tech's football team gathered for position meetings.
Brooks, an offensive guard from Denbigh High, thought the move routine and temporary. He figured Marshman had tweaked an ankle, or that seniors had the day off.
Moments later, offensive line coach Curt Newsome cornered Brooks and told him the complete story:
Marshman is academically ineligible for the bowl. He earned his degree last spring and competed this season as a graduate student, yet somehow failed to pass the
-minimum six credits during the recently completed fall semester.
"I was shocked," Brooks said
morning from his mother's Newport News home. "Then I was thinking, 'Wow, my first start in the Orange Bowl. What a start.' "
Indeed, thanks to the strangest, and perhaps most inexcusable, case of academic neglect in memory, Brooks will make his first college start Jan. 1 against Cincinnati.
Render, a second-team All-ACC selection, moves from right guard to replace Marshman. Brooks takes over Render's normal spot for his first start since 2006, his senior season at Denbigh.
Marshman had started 27 consecutive games and played 863 snaps this season, missing only three. He played approximately 1,800 snaps during his Tech career.
Brooks, an unfailingly polite "yes, sir, no, sir" young man, has played four snaps, three against Division I-AA Furman and one at Boston College. In the Orange Bowl, he'll line up next to right tackle and fellow redshirt freshman Blake DeChristopher.
Tech's all-rookie right side will encounter a defense that starts 10 seniors, including all four linemen and all three linebackers.
Can you say daunting?
"We're not really concerning ourselves with the snaps he hasn't taken," offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said of Brooks. "We're concerning ourselves with the snaps he's going to take. Those are the ones that are important. …
"We've got a lot of confidence in Jaymes. I'm sure Jaymes is going to have a little bit of jitters out there. … He's getting ready to face a very experienced, very difficult, physical defensive line."
What about it, Jaymes? Nervous?
"Just anxious to get out there and get that first hit out of the way," he said. "I've always been like that, even with the shot put. I was anxious until I got that first throw out of the way."
Brooks was the state Group AAA runner-up in the shot put and discus as a senior, was ranked among the state's top 10 football prospects and attracted scholarship offers from Florida, Tennessee,
and Virginia Tech.
He sat out the 2007 season as a redshirt, and when we chatted in August he couldn't wait to run out of the Lane Stadium tunnel for the home opener against Furman. Brooks understood and accepted that playing time would be sparse in 2008 behind Marshman and Ed Wang, a fourth-year junior.
Now Brooks prepares for a Cincinnati defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run and features first-team All-Big East end Connor Barwin. So bank on Bearcats coach
and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, VMI's secondary coach from 1999-2001, attacking Tech's right side with every stunt and blitz imaginable.
"I'm expecting it," Brooks said of Cincinnati picking on the freshmen. "That was the first thing I was thinking."
Stinespring, Newsome and head coach
are concerned about the Brooks-DeChristopher tandem, but since Brooks practiced at right guard throughout the season, they wanted to keep him as comfortable as possible. The coaches also consulted with the players, and the consensus was to shift Render.
Stinespring compares the move to switch-hitting in baseball: "It looks easy, but there's a little more to it."
Different stances, footwork and assignments. Communicating with a different teammate on your outside shoulder.
"It is a setback," Stinespring said. "You can't slide it away and pretend it's not there."
Marshman, never a moment's trouble off the field while at Tech, realizes as much and was contrite.
"Very few things surprise you … but every now and then, there's a shock value," Stinespring said. "If you know Nick, you know he's one of the most caring, sensitive guys in the world. I think he just wanted to apologize for the situation he put this team in."
Brooks has practiced six times with the first unit. He moved to the front row of position meetings and is paying more attention during strategy sessions.
"Coach Newsome told me I've improved a lot," Brooks said. "My footwork has gotten a lot better."
At 6-foot-2, 304 pounds, Brooks is blessed with the size and athletic ability to play guard, to sumo wrestle inside and pull to the outside.
He projected as a 2009 starter, but is he, on relatively short notice, ready to play on the Bowl Championship Series stage?
"Brooks has been coming along," Beamer said. "We'll see if he's ready for this. He's got the makings of being a really good player. Whether he can be a really good player against Cincinnati, we'll see."