Good has never been good enough.
Not when you’re an undersized defensive back.
Not when your dad played in the NFL.
Not when you’re clawing back from injuries.
Not when you’re a transfer trying to prove yourself.
Not when you’re Greg Brooks Jr. and Major Burns.
Burns, the Baton Rouge native, spent his first year at the University of Georgia where he played in six games. He was called back home to LSU, but faced a foot and a neck injury in two consecutive seasons. The epitome of perseverance, Burns pressed on, ensured his character held the team together and made every guy in the locker room a better man.
“Just knowing everything that he’s had to endure from his pops passing, to him only being with his mom and his little brother, him going to Georgia, him having to come back home,” LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith said. “I probably respect him the most out of anybody. I don’t know if I could go through some of the stuff he’s been through and still be that happy every day, still come to work every day, still being a leader as he is.”
As a safety, Burns has been described as one of the most confident and vocal players on the team. While his outside circumstances would give him every reason to fold, Burns chooses to serve what is most important to him: the game and his teammates.
“I know most of y’all look at me as a leader,” Burns told the team during fall camp. “I’ve got real love for the game, and I’ve got real love for y’all.”
The love is not only received, but also reciprocated. It seems as if every player in the LSU Football program lights up when they talk about Burns. All would agree he deserves it for giving so much of himself.
“He brings the whole defense together,” Smith said. “I respect the knowledge that he gives, I respect how he talks to people. I respect everything about him, and that’s my brother.”
LSU’s secondary is anchored by two defensive backs that are revered by everyone in the locker room. While Burns is the prime example of how not all heroes wear capes and not all captains wear a ‘C’ on their chest, he walks alongside someone who does wear the ‘C’: Brooks, a Louisiana boy at heart that started his college career at Arkansas.
Their common ground? He, too, eventually found his way home to the Tigers.
It’s hard to find a young football player that wants to play defense. Most want to play quarterback, with wide receiver being a close second. Brooks was no exception.
Defensive back Greg Brooks Sr. was selected in the sixth round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, and years later, his status would impact where coaches placed his son on the field. As a high school freshman, Brooks Jr. wanted to play wide receiver. His coach knew his father, so Brooks Jr. had no chance.
“My coach said, ‘Nah. You’re going to play defensive back,’” Brooks Jr. explained. “I said, ‘Alright.’ He told me I was going to play wide receiver in two weeks, but I was never able to get back on the offensive side of the ball. As long as I got better and better on defense – I played a few games my freshman year, and my sophomore year was really when it kind of took off. I feel like that’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Why? It helped him get here: one of four captains for the LSU Tigers.
The Harvey, La. native is used to being overlooked. In high school, he played in a 7-on-7 league, and his success propelled him into attending college camps, just waiting for a school to bite.
“I remember everything in 2019,” Brooks Jr. recalled. “I was like the last defensive back in my class to get offered a scholarship to any school in the country, not just an SEC school. People say they don’t look at stuff like that, but you know boys are looking at stuff like that. Being undersized, I had to go to camps on campus just to show I’m tall enough. So, it was kind of hard, but it also made me love the game even more because I really worked for it.”
His love for the game fuels his why: proving himself and doing it for his family. Brooks Jr. was inspired by his mom going to work at 4 a.m. just so she could make it to his track meets after school. With his dad, he was constantly reminded of how he can grow both inside and outside the lines.
“Obviously, any kid wants to be like their dad,” Brooks Jr. said. “But me playing football, him playing in the NFL and reaching his goals was probably one of my main priorities. Being better than him, hopefully one day getting drafted higher than he got drafted. But he always helped me a lot, whether it’s grading the film, tough love, everything; he always helped me out. I always knew it was coming from his heart.”
The last line was important.
“I remember one specific high school game I had an interception, and he said, ‘You could’ve had a pick-six,’” Brooks Jr. said. “He just motivated me to do better than what I was doing, basically saying the good wasn’t good enough.”
Good not being good enough didn’t mean he was a failure. It meant he could still work toward reaching his full potential. Instead of taking his dad’s comments personally, Brooks Jr. embraced it, recognizing that every parent wants their kid to have it better than they did. Brooks Sr. did his part when Brooks Jr. was younger, and now Brooks Jr. is paying it forward.
Despite it only being his second season with the Tigers, the undersized, once quiet defensive back that took an unconventional journey to LSU is now viewed as one of the best leaders on one of college football’s best teams. Burns does the talking, but both do the paving.
“I don’t really like talking a lot, but it’s crazy how much I see myself progress as not only a player, but as a person,” Brooks Jr. explained. “Bringing along other people with me, doing the right thing at the right time, helping others do what they need to do right then. Just motivating them, helping them believe that they can play and be great here.”
As motivators, Burns and Brooks Jr. will tell their teammates their work is good.
As leaders, they will make sure they know it’s not good enough.