When coach Bill Stewart took the West Virginia football team to the university's pool after a grueling day of practice recently, defensive back Guesly Dervil challenged Payton Brooks to a race.

Bad move.

Brooks shot off the starting block and quickly got ahead of Dervil, who gave up.

Lesson learned. Don't mess with the swimmer.

"No one challenged him after that," said wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway.

Brooks, a five-time all-Big East performer in sprint freestyle events, ended his WVU swim career last winter and is using a fifth year of eligibility to walk on as a wide receiver. He's currently practicing with the reserves.

Brooks understandably turned heads upon his arrival at summer workouts, a risky decision considering he never played varsity football in high school.

"First it was kind of like, 'who's the new guy?'" Brooks said. "It's a strange correlation. The two sports don't match up too well. So it was kind of like, 'a swimmer? Why is he here?'"

Stewart, always a champion of the underdog, liked Brooks' courage to try out.

"That's what makes the world go around. Why not?" Stewart said. "We all may not be astronauts but by golly we can all work at NASA."

Brooks played ninth-grade football at Hurricane High School. As a 5-foot-5, 135-pound sophomore, he broke his wrist a week before the season started and never saw varsity action.

Some friends who competed with Brooks on a club swim team as a youngster then persuaded him to return to the pool year-round.

He placed third in the 100-yard backstroke in the high school state meet as a sophomore, won the 50 freestyle and took second in the 100 backstroke as a junior, and won the 100 and 200 freestyles as a senior, setting a state record in the 200.

When his college swim career was over, Brooks found out he could compete in a fifth season, as long as it wasn't swimming.

Football was an easy choice. Brooks had been attending WVU games since he was an infant. Now at 6-1 and 190 pounds, he was a respectable size for a wide receiver.

"I gave myself a week to really sit down and ask myself if I wanted to go through all the training and the hard work," Brooks said. "I thought it was well worth it just to be a part of the program."

As good a shape as he was in from all those laps in the pool, Brooks wasn't ready for all the running. And the speed of the game compared to high school "is a totally different atmosphere," he said.

Alric Arnett is the incumbent at the X-receiver spot and freshman Logan Heastie and redshirt freshman Ryan Nehlen have been penciled in behind him.

Galloway made no promises about Brooks seeing action in a game.

"The biggest thing for him is just not playing football for the last four-five years," Galloway said. "He's not the fastest, but he gets in the right spot. Will he play? I don't know. But if there's a spot somewhere in a game where I could put him in, I plan to."

Brooks could be the latest in a line of successful football walk-ons at WVU that include fullback Owen Schmitt, now with the Seattle Seahawks. He also would join current starting quarterback Jarrett Brown as a two-sport athlete. Brown played for the WVU basketball team in the 2007-08 season.

"My goal is just to stay healthy and be a part of it and take it all in," Brooks said. "If I can run out of the tunnel just one time, it would make me happy and make it all worth it."