Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks is an example of a growing rarity in college football — the player that stays with a team for four seasons.
Brooks, now a senior, is entering his fourth season with the Red Raiders after two straight seasons as its leading rusher. And things could get better this season.
He won’t have to share time with SaRodorick Thompson. Not that he’s feeling the pressure of being the veteran back.
“No pressure,” said Brooks. “I’ve never had pressure, really, since my days in high school. I’m just ready to compete and get out there, play these teams and compete against them, see what they’re all about. We’re going to have a special group (in the running back room) and I can’t see what happens in the fall.”
Last season the Red Raiders went 8-5, with Brooks and Thompson working as a 1-2 punch. Brooks did lead the team in rushing with 691 yards, but only by seven yards over Thompson. He also led the team in carries and shared the team lead in rushing touchdowns with Thompson (seven each). It was only the fourth time two Red Raider running backs rushed for at least 600 yards in a season.
He also caught 26 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He was also Texas Tech’s highest-graded offensive player by Pro Football Focus (79.0).
His work in the passing game last season is something he hopes to build on this season. He’s worked with the same trainer who worked with several NFL backs, including Ezekiel Elliott. The goal was to make the 5-foot-10, 230-pound back quicker and more elusive and to rely less on running over defenders.
“For me, it’s being more than just a one-dimensional guy,” Brooks said. “I can catch the ball out of the backfield, I can line up in the slot and I can run some routes and help in that areas. If we have some receivers that go down, I can help in that area.”
Second-year offensive coordinator Zach Kittley has been tinkering with the offense, too, Brooks said. The goal?
“He’s a thinker,” Brooks said. “Anything that he sees from around college football, either in the run game or the pass game, for running backs. He’s going to apply that. Even in the spring and this offense, he’s been going through a lot of things to try and get the running backs the ball more. That could mean being in two-back more. We’ve been in three backs. We’ve been in pistol. So he’s just giving us different ways for the running backs to touch the ball and get on the field.”
This could be his biggest season in Lubbock, but he’s been building the framework for this since he arrived before the 2020 season after he rushed for more than 4,400 yards and 65 total touchdowns for Manor (TX) High School. That freshman season he rushed for 255 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games and just 69 carries.
Brooks had his breakout season in 2021 as a sophomore. He missed four Big 12 games due to injury, but he also rushed for 568 yards and seven touchdowns on just 87 carries. He also caught six passes for 58 yards. Despite missing those four games, he still managed to outrush Thompson for the team’s rushing title by 68 yards, after Thompson led the team in rushing in 2019 and 2020.
Brooks had a brilliant start that season, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns against new Big 12 member Houston. After rushing for 103 yards in his second game against Stephen F. Austin, Brooks rushed for 237 yards, the most for a Red Raider through two games since Ricky Williams in 1998.
If he runs like the NFL backs he admires in 2023 — Josh Jacobs and Marshawn Lynch — the Red Raiders should be in for a big season from their top back.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.