What will Kennedy Brooks’ 2021 season look like?
The 5-foot-11, 214-pound fourth-year junior has two 1,000-yard seasons in his pocket, but he might also need to overcome some rust from sitting out 2020. He’s unquestionably the Sooners’ most experienced running back, but he has competition from a dynamic sophomore and an exciting transfer.
“It’s good to have KB back,” said quarterback Spencer Rattler. “Not having him this past year, it’s just nice to have him back. He’s a vet, knows everything. He’s a leader in that group.”
After opting out of 2020 due to COVID concerns, Brooks re-entered the program during the team’s grueling winter workouts. Now that spring practice has begun, Brooks is certainly making his way back into the rotation.
“He’s participating fully as a member of the team,” coach Lincoln Riley said before spring practice began. “Working hard in the offseason. Some of it for us is a little bit yet to be seen. You just gotta get back on the field and see where they’re at.”
Brooks, from Mansfield, TX, has 2,067 career rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. As a freshman, he averaged 8.9 yards per carry — nearly a school record, and third in the nation in 2018. His easy, effortless, loping, running style once drew a comparison from Riley to “running in the park with his Labrador.” His gift is his exceptional vision and his timing for when to cut back and when to hit the throttle. But he also has adequate speed and power.
“You’ve got a guy that's obviously played a lot of ball and is a very smart football player that you feel like will be able to get back into the swing of things pretty quickly,” Riley said, “but at the same time, any time you're not on a football field for an entire year, it's different. It just is. I'm sure there will be certainly some adjustment period for him.”
Among his adjustments this year: he hasn’t played for running backs coach DeMarco Murray yet, and he hasn’t played alongside Rattler.
“Kennedy's my best friend. He's my roommate,” said H-back Jeremiah Hall. “So it would only be right for me to tell you guys that he doesn't expect anything less of himself. If anything, he's picking up right back where he started.
“Physically, he's still there. Mentally, he's still there. He might've been gone for a year but that doesn't mean he didn't work. He's ready and he expects to compete and put on a show.”
A couple other factors might figure into whether Brooks can join De’Mond Parker, Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine as the only players in school history with three 1,000-yard seasons: one is Seth McGowan. The other is Eric Gray.
As a true freshman last season, McGowan had 58 rushes for 370 yards and caught 13 passes for 201 yards. He finished with four touchdowns, and his performance against Florida in the Cotton Bowl — a 73-yard run and 70 yards receiving on three catches — might indicate that the 5-11, 211-pound McGowan is in line for a bigger role this fall.
And Gray is a transfer from Tennessee who in his two seasons in Knoxville rushed for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 369 yards and three TDs.
And as Rattler reminded, third-year sophomore Marcus Major figures to impact the depth chart after his Cotton Bowl performance (nine carries for 110 yards and a touchdown), and H-back Mikey Henderson is currently getting work as a running back, too.
“Running backs are very deep this year with KB, Eric Gray, Marcus Major, Seth, Mikey,” Rattler said. “Got a lot of guys at that position this year. KB being the oldest of them all, he’s definitely leading the way.”
Said Riley, “Obviously, a chance for him to work with coach Murray, who didn't have that opportunity to work with him last year. We're hoping that will be a great fit, a great partnership and we'll see how Kennedy attacks it. Knowing him, I'm sure he'll attack it and be ready to go.”