TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A hundred yards of green spread out ahead of him, and Terrence Brooks saw himself galloping across each hash mark along the way.
Even now, more than six months after Brooks mistimed a jump that would've inevitably led to a late -- albeit unnecessary -- touchdown against Clemson, he can still see the ball hanging in the air, picture himself snagging it from the receiver and darting toward the end zone at the opposite end of the field.
For a player who started every game, finished with 52 tackles and picked off two passes in 2012, it's that play that was the most memorable.
That's OK, Brooks said.
After that game, Brooks sat on the bench with his head hung while teammates celebrated, but now he celebrates it, too. After that game, his teammates begged him to forget the performance, but now he's glad to remember. Before that game, he questioned himself, but afterward, he knew.
"It really stuck with me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, but I felt like that was really good for me to see what can happen at this level," Brooks said. "I saw how I have to play, how to be focused at all times. From that moment on, I promised myself, my family and my team that it would never happen again, and I feel like I played really strong the rest of the year."
Indeed, Brooks held his own in one of the best secondaries in the country in 2012. He allowed two touchdowns against Clemson, including a 60-yarder to DeAndre Hopkins, but those were the exceptions. Florida State conceded just 40 other passing plays of more than 15 yards all season, the fewest in the nation, and Brooks played a major role in the effort.
Achieving that consistent success required Brooks to come through the fire, though, and his shortcomings against Clemson were an eye-opener.
Brooks had arrived at Florida State as a cornerback, and his work at safety had been limited prior to last season. He won the starting job, but by the time Hopkins, Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Clemson's high-octane offense arrived in Tallahassee in late September, he was still skeptical about whether he was up to the task.
"Having that Clemson game, that was my first big, big game like that," Brooks said. "Of course I was a little bit nervous, a little bit all over the place."
Sometimes it's those ugly plays that do the best job of soothing those nerves though, and for Brooks, that's exactly what happened.
"If you haven't played a lot and gained confidence that your really belong out there and make a mistake, every little mistake when you're young, you think the world is coming to an end," Jimbo Fisher said. "That's part of the maturity process you have to move through, and Terrence is doing a nice job of that."
Brooks is a senior now, and he's waged enough battles in the secondary that, looking back, he understands those big plays he allowed against Clemson never should've bothered him as much as they did. After all, he did make 12 tackles in the game, too.
This season, Brooks is the veteran. His partner at safety, Lamarcus Joyner, is moving to corner -- a move Brooks said he might have enjoyed, too, if given the chance -- and Jeremy Pruitt’s new blitz-heavy scheme figures to put even more pressure on the defensive backs. But Brooks is actually excited for an opportunity to test his skills more, play even more aggressive, take a few more risks. What's the worst that could happen?
Brooks already knows the answer, and he's OK with it.
"Everybody gets beat once in a while," he said, "but I'm going to come back even stronger this year, so you can expect a lot more."