KOLPACK: Running back-rich Bison find another big-play back in Brooks
FARGO—It was the spring of 2016 when Ty Brooks was wondering where he was going to fit into the North Dakota State lineup. On the first day of spring practice, for instance, he was playing cornerback.
It wasn't too much longer when he was moved back to running back, where he spent his redshirt season on the scout team. Offense. Defense. Offense. Kick return guy. Where was the Fargo South High School graduate going to play?
"We didn't know what he was going to be," said head coach Chris Klieman.
We found our answer on Saturday, Nov. 11.
And the Bison found their man in the backfield.
The lights went out before the University of South Dakota game in the traditional salute to each senior. When the lights came on, Brooks was lights out himself in the 49-14 win that restored NDSU's swagger with one week to go in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
He finished with 152 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns in a performance that was something out of a page from John Crockett.
"Running the football was big today," said quarterback Easton Stick. "We had some huge chunk plays."
Chunks like an eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that stomped out an early USD fire when the Coyotes took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in 12 plays. Chunks like a 54-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left in the first half that gave the Bison a 28-14 halftime lead.
"Shout out to the O-line," Brooks said, in reference to the offensive line. "They put me in good position to get out in space and turn on the burners and get some yards for us."
The Bison offense was missing those burners after Lance Dunn went down against Western Illinois three weeks ago. Junior Bruce Anderson is the tough-guy, bruising type of back, but the West Coast needs more than that to function at a high level.
At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Brooks and freshman Seth Wilson filled that void against the Coyotes. If Wilson's 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a preview of what his career will be over the next three years, then the Bison found another gem.
NDSU lifted his redshirt two weeks ago and he saw a few plays here and there his first two games. The Bison coaches seem to be getting more comfortable with him now and Wilson finished with 88 yards on 13 carries.
"They have some injuries at running back but they have depth," said USD head coach Bob Nielson. "That's the difference between their program and the rest of us trying to catch them. They have more depth. They get banged up at a position and they can bring in more guys that are quality players."
Brooks wasn't the most celebrated recruiting find at running back the Bison have ever gotten, mainly because he wasn't the Bruins' dude in the backfield. That was James Johannesson, who had the Division I recruiting attention in Fargo.
Brooks was doing plenty of celebrating against the Coyotes, as in lifting his arms up in the end zone waiting for his teammates to share in one of his touchdowns.
"He's a pretty good football player, we've seen that a number of times in the spring and fall," Klieman said. "He was healthy today. He's playing with more confidence and with our offense, you have to have a lot of repetitions. When he was nicked up, he wasn't getting the carries in practice."
Nielson called his defensive unit a "very poor tackling team," although Brooks and Wilson also had a say in that.
To think Brooks was a guy at one time in practice doing the tackling. At South, he did a little bit of everything from running back to slot receiver to whatever the Bruins needed him to do. It took until his third year at NDSU, but he's finally found a home on the field.
"It was all worth it because it got me to where I'm at now," Brooks said. "Whatever I have to do to help the team out but now I feel like I'm stuck at running back. It's a good feeling."
Klieman said once the Bison coaches settled in on him being a running back, Brooks has done nothing but get better. Last year there was not much of a chance to shine being behind Anderson, Dunn, King Frazier and Chase Morlock.
"This year he's come into his own because he's put in the time and effort to learn the playbook," Klieman said.
USD will second that.