November 17, 2006
In football, 1,000 rushing yards is a lot. The number is widely seen as the benchmark for a successful season by a ball carrier. But when you stop to think about the many miles senior running back Elijah Brooks (who is currently just 88 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the season) has logged throughout his athletic career, 1,000 yards begins to pale in comparison.
p. In just three years with the Tribe, Brooks has established himself as one of the most accomplished running backs to ever play for the College. Going into tomorrow’s season finale against the University of Richmond, Brooks sits in seventh place on the Tribe’s career rushing yards list with 2,517 yards, and if he gains just 29 more he will move into fifth place all-time. These numbers still don’t come close, however, to showing the real distance Brooks has covered throughout his career.
p. Brooks began playing football in the second grade, when he played on a 70-lb. team for his Boys and Girls Club.
p. “My dad, he’s a sports fanatic,” Brooks said of how he first got into football (his father played football for Morgan State University). “He didn’t push me towards football, my mother and father just put me in all sports, whether it be basketball, football, baseball, and they just allowed me to decide.”
p. Brooks went on to attend DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. He starred as a two-way football player, playing running back on offense and outside linebacker on defense (Brooks says that he still has “the mentality of a defensive player”). He also played guard for the basketball team. He found himself in good company in both sports. Preceding him at the tailback position was Brian Westbrook, who now is the starting running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. His former DeMatha teammate Quinn Ojinnaka is now an offensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons. On the basketball team, he played for legendary coach Morgan Wooten, the winningest coach in the history of high school basketball, and was preceded by Keith Bogans, who now plays shooting guard for the Orlando Magic.
p. “It was a great experience at DeMatha,” said Brooks. “Winning tradition, always competing on a high level in the area and in tournaments [for the basketball team] and traveling and getting exposure. I played with a lot of great players at DeMatha and played against a lot of great players at DeMatha.”
p. Brooks’ run as a basketball player ended with high school (as he only grew to be 5’9’’), but he was able to earn a spot on the Kent State University football team. Brooks attended Kent State for his first year and his redshirt freshman season, but then decided to transfer. The Brooks family had several connections to the College, including a family friend, Robert Green, who used to play Tribe football, and Brooks decided to give the school a closer look.
“We got in contact with [Head] Coach [Jimmye] Laycock and he liked what he saw as far as game film from Kent State, and he gave me the opportunity to play here,” Brooks said. “So I’m greatly appreciative for that.”
p. Brooks began his Tribe career with the 2004 season and was an integral part of a team that advanced all the way to the Division I-AA semifinals before falling to James Madison University 48-34.
p. “I will always hold on to those memories of 2004 during that playoff run, probably [my] most exciting time ever playing sports,” Brooks said. “I never thought that type of excitement could have come to a small school like William and Mary.”
p. That level of excitement has not been seen for the Tribe this season, however, as the team has struggled to a 3-7 record.
p. “It’s been a rough season,” Brooks said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. Many of us had high expectations going into the year. With the potential and talent we have on the team, nobody thought we would be 3-7 right now.”
p. Despite the tough season, Coach Laycock has remained impressed with Brooks’ performance.
p. “As we recognize players of the week each week, it’s almost a joke because he could basically retire the trophy if he wanted to, because he has been so consistent and so good every week,” Laycock said.
p. As for that elusive 1,000-yard rushing mark, Brooks says that reaching it would mean a lot to him as well as his teammates.
p. “With everything that’s gone wrong this season, to get 1,000 yards would mean a lot to not only myself but the offensive line,” Brooks said. “We struggled the whole year with criticism and that’ll be a landmark that just showed that we continued working and continued fighting.”
p. Off the field, Brooks says he spends a lot of time with many of the guys he shares a position with on the field — fellow running backs Tony Viola, DeBrian Holmes and Delmus Coley. Running backs coach Steven Jerry says that the influence Brooks has over the other backs is clear.
p. “Everybody looks up to him,” Jerry said. “When he’s not around, you see a difference … the other kids slip up a little bit.”
While free time is certainly hard to come by during the football season, Brooks says when he does get a spare moment he likes to play video games, particularly Madden, which he says causes people to get on him about never getting away from football. However, he also likes playing a game that is about as far from the gridiron as you can get.
p. “I enjoy playing Monopoly. We always play Monopoly whenever we get a chance,” Brooks said. “I like to do a lot of things; it’s just that I don’t have much time, but after this week I’ll probably have a lot more time to do things I want to do.”
p. Which brings us to tomorrow’s game, the final one of his career. While Brooks says that the fact that his career will soon be over hasn’t really hit him yet, he knows that it will once the time comes.
p. “Walking out there for the last time will be something special,” Brooks said. “I hope we can end on a good note.”
p. Once the season is over, Brooks will have more time to focus on academics. A kinesiology major, he will graduate in May.
p. Brooks said that adjusting to the College’s academic intensity was very difficult for him at first, as he soon found that the study habits he used at Kent State were not going to cut it at the College, saying that he had to “learn the hard way” during his first semester here.
p. “When it was all done, I said ‘it can’t get any worse than this, if I can make it through [the first semester] then I’ll be okay,’” Brooks said.
p. After graduation, Brooks has plans to attend graduate school to become a physical therapist, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to give up football yet.
p. “Oh yeah,” Brooks said when asked if he will attempt to continue to play football. “I’m definitely going to give it a shot.”
p. When Brooks leaves the field for the last time tomorrow, and again when he leaves at graduation, he will be leaving behind more than just his name in the record books.
p. “He’s a great guy,” senior center Cody Morris said. “He’s one of those guys you want to sit down and have a conversation with … I couldn’t say enough about him, he’s a great guy.”
p. “I will remember Elijah Brooks as a great competitor and a great young man,” Jerry said. “He may not have everything Division I and the NFL want … but when you look at his heart and competitiveness … I’ll take him all day and every day.”
p. While Zable Stadium is a long way from the field in Maryland where Brooks used to play games for his Boys and Girls Club team nearly 15 years ago, he still has memories of his days in the 70-lb. league.
p. “It’s surprising that being 22 I still can remember certain plays or certain events that happened way back when I was playing in the Boys and Girls Club,” Brooks said. “It seems like such a long time ago, but at the same time it seems like it just happened yesterday.”