TAMPA, Fla. -- One day, shortly after he found inspiration for his next goal, Derrick Brooks sat with Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and sold him on a vision. Their conversation happened after Brooks' trip to South Africa in 2005, one in which the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker bonded with Tampa Bay-area youth, and he looked for his foundation's next challenge.
Brooks wanted to start a charter high school, and he knew DeBartolo, a Tampa resident and former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, was the right man to ask about forming a partnership. In 1996, the DeBartolo family established the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, Calif., a public school founded with a goal of keeping kids safe and focused on graduation. Brooks read about the academy's influence and wanted to achieve something similar.
Brooks' pitch to DeBartolo lasted all of about five minutes. The former owner was hooked, a bond in education born between two men known for their NFL backgrounds.
"Yes, let's do it,"...