HUNTSTVILLE — Tanner Brock’s hope is that one day he will return to TCU for a football game, to tailgate with friends and family, to walk the grounds the way he did as a student. And that maybe one day, should he have a child, he would attend the school.For now, per the terms of his parole and agreement with TCU, he is not allowed back on campus.“I steer clear of the university. I’m not allowed on the university,” he said. “Not for another few years.”He guesses that will be sometime in 2015.Tanner Brock is 22. He looks good and he sounds good. He is a starting senior linebacker at Sam Houston State. He is in a much better place than when we last saw him — the morning of his arrest on Feb. 15, 2012.He was one of 17 TCU students, including four football players, arrested in a drug sting by the Fort Worth Police Department that generated national headlines. TCU became a national joke. Brock and his friends were thought to be gridiron Pablo Escobars.Once the initial shock of the arrest faded, it was learned these small-time transactions, while not smart, did not merit the attention generated. In June 2012, Brock pleaded guilty to delivery of marijuana more than a quarter of an ounce but less than 5 pounds. He received four years of deferred adjudication, $1,200 in court costs and community service.In Brock’s first interview since that arrest, he took full responsibility for the direction his life has taken. He said he is trying to make the most of what he has in an effort to prove he is not what you think of him. He sounds like what you might expect — a young kid who screwed up and is trying to make things right while kicking himself for his mistakes.Excommunicated from TCUWearing blue jeans and a white Sam Houston State polo shirt, Brock is relaxed but does not sound like a man who is thrilled to be replaying his “greatest hits.” His voice sounds a bit nervous. He does, however, have a few things to say.“I know I hurt a lot of people,” he said. “I wish I had not done it. I love TCU and I love Fort Worth. A lot of people really care about that place, and it’s their alma mater, and I brought a negative light to something that means a lot to a lot of people.“It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people, and Fort Worth is great, and I was on the football team, and I had all of that. I thought I was untouchable.”More than 19 months have passed since the police entered his home in Fort Worth and arrested him on suspicion of selling drugs to an undercover cop. One of the arresting officers handed Brock a piece of paper from TCU.“It said I was immediately suspended and was excommunicated from the school,” he said. “I knew my time at TCU was over.”He was taken to jail. “That morning in jail... I did not feel like I belonged there, based on the people who surrounded me,” he said. “I never thought I would be in that situation. I’m a college kid from a good family. I would watch guys on ESPN and they would get in trouble and I would think, ‘You had everything — what are you doing that for?’ Ironically, I put myself in that same situation.”When he was released from jail, news cameras caught Brock yelling a number of threatening and unflattering things. He has not watched that footage and is mostly embarrassed by the whole thing.“I was mad at myself,” he said. “I never thought I would be stupid enough to put myself in that situation.... I do wish I had walked out with my head held high, and not belittled the situation. I wish I had accepted responsibility for it sooner.”Not surprisingly, through the advice of his attorneys, he kept his mouth shut.More bad news came when police records were released that included conversations between Brock and the undercover cops where he stated as many as 80 TCU football players tested positive for drug use.“It was a candid conversation between myself and what I thought was another guy; it was a stupid conversation to be having, period,” Brock said. “It wasn’t true. It was just guys joking around. It came out that [he said it] as facts and they were very wrong. It hurt me because I would never want to hurt TCU, or my teammates especially. I loved those guys.”A report in the Star-Telegram later stated that five TCU football players had tested positive for marijuana.Brock made a point in the nearly 45-minute interview that his close friend, and then-roommate, quarterback Casey Pachall, had no involvement in any part of this.“He was already getting fingers pointed at him because he was my roommate, but he had nothing to do with this,” Brock said.Brock said he remains close with Pachall and a handful of his former teammates.After Brock left TCU, he returned to his home in Copperas Cove, where he enrolled in online classes at a school in Colorado and tried to figure out what life was going to look like.A place for the playerLost in all of the sensationalized headlines was Brock’s talent as a good player. According to his former head coach, Gary Patterson, he is also a good kid.In 2009, Brock was named a Phil Steele second-team freshman All-American. In 2010, he was a Sports Illustrated honorable mention All-American. He had nine tackles in TCU’s Rose Bowl win.At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he has good linebacker size. Of the four TCU football players involved in the arrest, Brock was easily the best player. Some school was going to want Tanner Brock the player.Once he figured out that his life was not over, he began the process of trying to find another school, which included Sam Houston State and UT El Paso. UTEP made sense because his brother, Cooper, is a defensive lineman for the Miners.Because of his uncertain legal issues, no school was able to extend an invitation right away.On July 26, 2012, his sentencing in Fort Worth was finalized. Some of the plea agreement requires “a whole lot” of community service, and he must travel to Fort Worth to visit his parole officer.As part of the agreement, he works with a program at his old high school as well as the Boys & Girls Club in Huntsville.Brock enrolled at Sam Houston State in the fall of 2012. After this semester, he said he will need six more credit hours to finish his degree in communication studies.“I need 120 hours to finish a degree, but I’m going to have competed 140,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been in college forever.”Brock originally hoped to play for the Bearkats last fall, but because a series of delays regarding academics, communication between TCU, SHSU and the NCAA, and his legal issues, he did not play a game last fall and was a scout-team player. Injured almost all of 2011, he effectively has missed two full seasons.He played his first game on Aug. 31 at home against Houston Baptist. Brock was credited with four tackles, one for a loss. In three games this season, he is third on the team in tackles and has two sacks.“I am not playing as well as when I was at TCU,” he said. “My game has changed since I got here.”It’s not the Rose Bowl, but the Bearkats have been one of the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision. They are ranked fourth nationally.It’s not TCU — the attendance for the home opener was just under 10,000 — but it’s a chance to keep playing in what is his final year of college eligibility.“Between my coaches, my teammates and the whole town, [they have] been very understanding,” he said. “At first, there was the clarification stage. They didn’t know the gist. They didn’t want a bad person coming to the team. I am very appreciative. They stuck their necks out for me.”A sense of reliefBrock and his longtime girlfriend share a home in nearby Willis; she commutes to The Woodlands to work, he makes the 20-minute drive for class, practice, etc.As the interview winds down, there is some hint of relief in his voice.“I wanted to do this,” he said.Brock believes things happen for a reason. When asked why this happened, he has no answer.Right now, his new normal may not be exactly like it was at TCU, but it beats the alternative.He’s hoping to give the NFL a shot in the spring. His older brother, former TCU tight end Logan Brock, has bounced around and is an injured member of the Texans’ practice squad.Every day is another that provides more space from the morning that changed his life. His family and friends had assured him that he would get through it, and he is. There exists, however, reminders that this is not over — community service hours to be completed, visits to parole officers, a campus that used to be his where he is not welcome.“It will forever be in my heart one of those moments where I ask, ‘What were you doin’, boy?’” he said. “I’m going to have to tell my kids because they are going to find out. I’m going to have to tell them their dad was really stupid. It was bad choices. It was irresponsible, and it put a lot of people I care about in jeopardy.”As far as he is concerned, he is as much of a Horned Frog as he is a Bearkat.And he can’t wait for the day when it’s OK for him to go back.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof