Remembering his classroom hero

Posted May 21, 2012

Red Bryant didn't just speak to the teachers being honored as Heroes in the Classroom on Friday, the Seahawks' defensive end told the story of the teacher who impacted - and continues to impact - his life.

For those students in Ericka Johnson Pollard’s second-grade class at B.F. Day School who were wondering where their teacher was on Friday afternoon, she was …

At CenturyLink Field …

Hangin’ in the locker room with Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant.

But she made sure to take the wonderment out of what turned out to be a wonderful experience.

“My students absolutely know where I am, because I told them,” Johnson Pollard said, while standing in front of a cubicle that featured not only her name but also a book on the Symetra Heroes in the Classroom program with her smiling face on the cover.

“And this is a wonderful program. My mom’s a teacher; she’s been a teacher for 38 years in Seattle. This is only my third year teaching, and it’s so funny to already receive this.”

Johnson Pollard was one of 24 teachers honored this year, a group that also includes Ali Airhart (Syre Elementary), Amber Hronek (Campbell Hill Elementary), Anne Marie Culver (Kellogg Middle School), Brian Hoskins (Lindbergh High), David Black (McKnight Middle School), Diana Dillard (Shorewood High), Jeff Porter (Maplewood Heights Elementary), Jennifer Etter (Shorecrest High), Jessica Jansen Becker (Wedgewood Elementary), Kay Law (Ridgecrest Elementary), Kent Daniels (Orca K-8), Kevin Gallagher (Bryant Elementary), Kim Sweet (Sartori Education Center), Lisle Steelsmith (Kennydale Elementary), Marybeth Scherf (Lake Forest Park Elementary), Michael Callahan (Room Nine Community School), Michelle Nobles (Dimmitt Middle School), Rebecca Ritchie (Nelsen Middle School), Stephanie Eliason (Renton Park Elementary), Stephanie Latimer (Lakeridge Elementary), Teresa Klein (Roxhill Elementary), Therese Russell (Brookside Elementary) and Tracy Andersen (Meridian Park Elementary).

“I think it’s amazing what Symetra and the Seahawks do,” Johnson Pollard said. “It’s fabulous to feel appreciated like this.”

As for Bryant’s role in Friday’s event, “It was a no-brainer,” he said. For starters, he had dyslexia as a child, a situation he shared with the honorees and the principals from their schools. But even more importantly for Bryant was Sue Brooks’ role in his life. She was an English teacher at Jasper (Texas) High School.

“As for a teacher who had an impact on my life, there’s no question, her name is Sue Brooks,” Bryant said. “The impact that she had on my life gave me the opportunity to be before you guys right now.”

Bryant also told the assembled educators how he had to take the ACT four times. The first three times, his scores were 13, 11 and 12. The fourth time, with Brooks’ help, he scored a 21.

“She went the extra mile,” Bryant said. “She got the paperwork together and she requested that she be able to read it to me, and I scored a 21.”

But her role in Bryant’s life went beyond teacher/student. Bryant did not like to fly, so that was a significant issue when he was being recruited out of high school.

“I was terrified to fly,” he said. “So I only took three recruiting trips. I went to Arkansas, (Texas) A&M and Penn State. Penn State was the only one where I flew. I was so terrified after that, I was like, ‘I can’t do it.’

“She said, ‘You know what, Joseph? We’ll drive you.’ So her and husband drove me and a teammate to Arkansas. It took eight hours. So anybody who ever recruited me knew who Sue Brooks was.” 

But Brooks’ impact on Bryant’s life went even deeper than that. When he tore a knee ligament during his junior season at Texas A&M and was concerned what the impact of the injury could mean to his draft status, it was Brooks who reminded him that getting an education – and a degree – should be his primary focus.

“Because she was so driven on that, I was able to get a degree in leadership and communication,” Bryant said. “And the thing that was so special about Mrs. Brooks, she didn’t love me because of athletics. Because the same things she did for me, you can ask any other student, she made every last one of us feel extremely special.”

Bryant hasn’t forgotten. Any of it. In fact, when his wife, Janelle, became pregnant with their first child last year, Bryant wanted to include Brooks in his name – so Joseph (that’s Bryant’s given name) Brooks Bryant it is; to honor Sue Brooks, who died of cancer in June 2009.

“I can’t tell you how much I love and miss her,” Bryant said after making his presentation to the educators. “To show you how much she means to me, I talked to my wife and I just felt it would be a great tribute to her for me to name him Joseph Brooks. The reason his first name is Joseph is because she loved me so much. And his middle name is Brooks, in honor of her.

“And we call him B. When he’s growing up and someone asks him, ‘Why do they call you B?’ he’ll be able to tell them about a great woman that he never met, but truly, truly loves him.”

Back to Johnson Pollard, this NFL stuff is actually nothing new for her. Her husband, Trent, was an offensive lineman with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1994-96.

“I didn’t even get to see the inside of the locker room when he was playing,” she said. “So this is extremely fun.”