Drake Relays champion, future Hawkeye Blair Brooks embraces family legacy

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

MARION, Ia. — Trips out with grandpa weren’t the average leisure activity, more so a revered journey through the Iowa sports landscape. Community members approached at every stop — wanting to chat about the latest prep phenom or Hawkeye development — and Bob Brooks carved out time for everyone. Simple restaurant or store visits transformed into hour-long adventures.

Blair Brooks laughs when recalling these outings — some of the initial visualizations that illustrated just how powerful his grandfather’s aura was inside the Hawkeye State. Hearing about the broadcasting legacy is one thing; watching it unfold up-close is another.

“I think that’s kind of when it hit him,” said Rob Brooks, Blair’s father, Bob’s son and a noteworthy Iowa broadcasting name in his own right.   

‘“OK, this is a little bit different.’”       

For 57 years of a seven-decade career, Bob’s voice guided Iowa fans through emotional wins and painful losses, doing so with eternal grace and respect until his passing in June 2016. Rob has followed suit, cementing himself as the Hawkeye Radio Network’s play-by-play man for Iowa women’s basketball and football sideline reporter since 2004.

Now on the cusp of starting his own Iowa voyage, Blair fully treasures and embraces what his last name means to those who breathe black and gold. The Marion standout’s football and track prowess has him positioned to further serve the place where the  “Brooks” name is so deeply respected.

Blair Brooks, Marion, competes in the boy's long jump Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s just really cool growing up and then honoring that legacy by going to Iowa,” said Blair, who gave Hawkeye fans a taste of his athletic ability with a Drake Relays long-jump title on Thursday. “It just really means a lot to me.”   

'Something special that I never realized'

Although youth sports kept many of Blair’s adolescent weekends jam-packed, opportunities to join dad and grandpa at work did arise early on. Rob would take his son down on the sidelines a couple times a season; Blair’s Drew Tate jersey proudly displaying his budding Hawkeye fandom.

The memories quickly piled up: Iowa’s stunning 2005 Capital One Bowl win in walk-off fashion, and his grandfather’s subsequent postgame sprint across the field; the Hawkeyes’ 2008 upset of then-No. 3 Penn State, capped by the trusted leg of kicker Daniel Murray.  

Being fully ingrained in the Iowa fabric felt so natural then. But Blair has come to appreciate just how unique those opportunities were.      

“It seemed so casual growing up, but all my friends are like, ‘Oh you got to do this and that,’” Blair said. “And just looking back on it, I’m like ‘Wow, that was really something special that I never realized.’”

Around middle school, Blair received an Iowa jersey from his grandfather with “Brooks” printed on the back.

Call it a bit of foreshadowing.

'That's where my heart was'

Blair’s first love was rooted in baseball, and Bob’s role covering the Cedar Rapids Kernels only strengthened it. On days when Blair ventured to Veterans Memorial Stadium, he’d routinely pop into the Kernels’ dugout, snag a baseball and pop out. No biggie.

But as the years passed by, other athletic doors started opening. Blair dipped his toe into the track scene simply because “all my friends were doing it.” On the football side, he hooked up with Team Iowa as a seventh-grader and was now competing with the state’s next wave of stars.

Success materialized quickly.

Blair was a Drake Relays qualifier as a freshman and Marion’s second-leading receiver as a sophomore. The potential was bubbling inside his athletic frame.

Blair Brooks, Marion, competes in the boy's long jump Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa perked up, even if it was just general early interest. The first Hawkeye buzz arrived in the spring of Blair’s sophomore year.

“It was nice to kind of get that notice because things happen so early now,” Rob said, “but you’ve still got to go through and perform and go to camps. It was the early stages, but it was a neat experience to get that first folder with the Hawkeye football helmet on the cover.”

Blair’s recruitment only gained more traction as he progressed through high school, a product of two solid upperclassmen seasons. The Hawkeyes kept watch as Blair picked up FCS offers from Western Illinois and South Dakota, and morphed into a track force with Class 3A titles in both jumping events as a junior.

Even with the family history, Blair approached the process as neutrally as possible. He even visited Iowa State, which riled up the Twitter folk. The FCS offers were intriguing as well, considering Iowa’s football offer stood only as a preferred walk-on spot that could materialize into a scholarship.    

But Blair couldn’t shake the Iowa City vibe.

Sometimes, the obvious choice is obvious for a reason.

“Eventually, I looked at all the other schools, and Iowa City is just home,” said Blair, who announced his commitment for both Hawkeye football and track on Oct. 14. “It feels right, and that’s where I decided to go. That’s where my heart was.”

'It'll be pretty neat'

Blair’s collegiate chapter will become reality in a few short months, but for now, the focus is on finishing a decorated prep career.

As the temperatures warm up and the weather chaos subsides, the Marion senior will look to stay in a jumping groove. Blair, following his Drake title, remains a legit contender to repeat as state champion in both events next month.  

Marion's Blair Brooks competes in the Boy's high jump during the 2018 Drake Relays on Friday, April 27, 2018, at Drake University.

He’ll then trek south, to the campus where everyone knows the name.

“I think it’ll be pretty neat for eastern Iowans and some of those folks who are big-time Iowa fans,” Marion boys’ track-and-field coach Chad Zrudsky said, “understanding his last name and who his grandfather was and with his dad doing some work down there, too. It’s pretty special.

“That’s a big piece, and I think that was always kind of in the back of his mind that it’d be pretty cool to compete and be an Iowa Hawkeye.”

Whether a third Brooks joins the broadcasting booth remains to be seen, although Blair having some career in sports seems like a safe bet. He’s watched for years how beneficial athletics can be, the opportunities it provides and the relationships it builds.

All the way back to those early trips with grandpa.    

“If (Blair’s) career is half as good as Bob’s was,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said in February, “we’re going to be OK there.”   

Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.