Brandon Brooks felt terrible one Thursday morning. Waking up to stomach pain and nausea was the last thing the Texans starting right guard needed. Normally, he'd have a few days to recover before playing.
Not that day.
It was October 8, 2014 and the Texans were gearing up to face the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium that very night. Brooks not only missed the game, he had to immediately check himself into a hospital for his puzzling symptoms.
"I don't know if it was food poisoning or some type of virus or something," Brooks said. "I was vomiting twice every 30 minutes."
He lost 12 pounds over the course of just a few days, but the hardest part wasn't the illness.
It was missing the game.
"Extremely tough, and the biggest thing is just not being out there with the guys that you practice with and you're with a lot of your hours during the day," Brooks said. "I think that was the biggest thing."
Brooks was released from the hospital soon after and would go on to start the remaining 10 games of 2014. The right guard was part of an offensive line that the statistics website Pro Football Focus ranked as third in the league in run blocking. Brooks and the Texans o-line paved the way for eight 100-yard rushing performances in 2014. Arian Foster gained 1,246 yards, the third-highest in the AFC.
"I think he can be one of the top guards in this league, I really do," head coach Bill O'Brien said June 8. "I think he is a very, very good player who can pull and that can be stout inside. He just needs to keep developing in that regard. He's got to have high expectations for himself. We have very high expectations for him."
O'Brien isn't the only one with high expectations of Brooks. The offensive lineman garnered praise from multiple outlets this offseason:
"Nobody mentions his name much, but Brandon Brooks has quietly put together two very good seasons with his run blocking being of the standout variety." - ProFootballFocus.com (January 8, 2015
"Brooks has given up just one sack in two years from his spot at right guard. Moreover, he is a principal figure in Houston's run game, creating seams for Arian Foster to knife through, time and again." -NFL.com (June
Despite a successful 2014 campaign, Brooks still never figured out what happened that October morning. His mysterious stomach bug flared up again in the offseason and Brooks wanted answers.
"Originally, I thought it was a stomach flu or something, but turns out I had an ulcer," he said June 16. "I didn't know about it. Luckily, they found it this time with the same symptoms I had last time. I knew it was something serious so I wanted to get it checked out. Not to get too much into detail, but they went in with cameras and found it and gave me some medicine, so I'm good to go."
Brooks made dietary changes, giving up junk food and soda. He also incorporated yoga into his workouts. He arrived to the Texans organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp not just healthy, but in excellent shape and ready to go.
"He came back in shape," O'Brien said. "He's had a really good spring. Knock on wood, he's stayed healthy. He's moving well. He knows our offense better. I have very, very high expectations for Brandon Brooks."
Between sweating out 105-degree plus hot yoga sessions and working out with teammates like Duane Brown, Brooks has also been chipping away at his Master's degree.
"It's going well," Brooks said. "I was doing basically Monday through Wednesday from 8-4. From there, I could work out with Duane, and a couple other guys. From there, I would go straight to class on nights and weekends and stuff."
With the 2015 season underway, Brooks has the same dedication to football, but with a renewed focus. The 25-year-old, now entering his fourth NFL season, became a full-time starter at right guard in 2013. He worked quietly at his game, talking to veterans, aiming to be consistent on every play. Even after a successful campaign last year, he won't settle for the status quo.
"I think I can be much better," Brooks said. "I would say I'm one of those guys where I think there are always things I can work on to get better. You know, pass-pro, running game, recognition of blitzes, knowing the playbook better, things along those lines. I think can be much better."