College and high school football are in an era where spread offenses run wild, and quarterbacks and wide receivers put up huge numbers. If a running back rushes for 1,500 yards, it's considered an outstanding feat.
In the world of Oklahoma 4-star running back commit Kennedy Brooks, that era is something of a myth. It may happen around him, but not on his home turf. And while that's been great for him and his Mansfield (Texas) High School teammates and supporters, it's absolutely miserable for his opponents.
In Brooks' world, the art of moving the ball primarily via the rush is still a thing. At Mansfield, it isn't considered an old-school method to line up in the I formation and run the ball 40 times—or more. And with someone like Brooks in the backfield, the success rate has been high.
Numbers don't lie. In only eight games this season, Brooks has rushed for 2,113 yards and 26 touchdowns. He's averaging nearly 10.7 yards a carry and has a season low of 178 rushing yards in a game this year—and all of this is happening in Class 6A football, Texas' highest and arguably most competitive classification.
"I think about what I've done last year and now this year, and it's a great achievement," Brooks said. "I'm so blessed to be where I'm at. I've been working hard, but I have to give everything up to the offensive line for blocking and the defense for getting the ball back. I can't do any of this by myself."
Cedar Hill (Texas) head coach Joey McGuire, who watched Brooks rush for 272 yards and a season-high five touchdowns against his team on Sept. 2, considers Brooks his "favorite high school player not wearing a Cedar Hill uniform." McGuire described the future Sooner in five words.
"That dude is a stud," he said.
OU-bound with insane numbers
Few freshmen get the luxury of playing varsity football. While Brooks' playing time was limited, he managed to accumulate 12 yards on three carries. There was promise, however, in his game.
"I remember seeing him before high school. He was well above everybody at that point in time," Mansfield head coach Daniel Maberry said. "It seemed like every time he touched the ball, he scored. He doesn't look as fast for whatever reason, but when you're watching film, you watch in amazement.
"I was thinking, 'Man, we have someone special here.' I mean, he's the real deal."
Brooks turned those 12 varsity yards into an outstanding high school career that includes 6,918 rushing yards and 82 touchdowns, according to the Dallas Morning News. Brooks rushed for 1,271 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.
As good as he was then, it was his junior season that set the tone for him recruiting-wise. In helping Mansfield make its deepest playoff run in school history—a trip to the Texas Class 6A Division II state semifinals—Brooks rushed for 3,522 yards and 42 touchdowns.
"As a player, [he's] the toughest running back I have faced in 23 years of coaching," McGuire said. "He has great vision and great balance and refuses to let one guy tackle him. Plus, he is an incredible kid."
Brooks, ranked the nation's No. 12 running back in the 2017 class, played his final game as a junior last December. By March, he had double-digit offers, among those Michigan, Washington, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Illinois and SMU.
And Oklahoma, a school that held his heart for years. Many of those on his father's side of the family are from the state, and he grew up watching the Sooners and admiring what they did with their running backs.
"I watched guys like Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray, and I fell in love with the run game," Brooks said. "I knew they always had good offensive linemen, and they always ran the ball well."
When he took an unofficial visit, Brooks said he knew Norman, Oklahoma, was for him. He committed to the Sooners on Oct. 3, ultimately choosing Oklahoma over offers from Michigan and run-game stalwarts like Wisconsin and Arkansas, two teams that offered in May.
"Kennedy's one of those guys who can be exceptional at Oklahoma," Maberry said. "If you look at their backs, they are generally thicker guys who break tackles. He has more of a slender build [6'0", 195 lbs], but people don't realize how strong he is. He breaks tackle after tackle. I don't think there will be any kind of drop-off with him."
Oklahoma fans are excited about the future, as Brooks is expected to help pick up wherever Samaje Perine leaves off. Perine is one of the elite running backs in college football, and with his ability to wear down opponents in the trenches, Brooks can be equally dangerous on the field for the Sooners.
One of the big questions asked is if he can duplicate last year's efforts. Brooks still has two regular-season games remaining, and Mansfield is anticipating another solid playoff run. He rushed for roughly 1,400 of his 3,522 yards in five playoff games last season.
"It'd be a great accomplishment," Brooks said. "I'm always glad to have 100 yards and get a win. It can be 50 yards, as long as it's a win. We'll see what the future holds."
Trusting the philosophy
Maberry is in his first year as Mansfield's head coach, but he's been at the school for 15 years, most recently serving as the offensive coordinator. He admitted that Mansfield's offensive philosophy is against the new norm of pass-happy offenses, but that's what makes his offense tick.
It helps having a workhorse like Brooks in the backfield. Brooks has carried the ball 198 times this season, an average of almost 25 times a game. Only twice this season has he not had more than 20 rushing attempts. Additionally, Brooks' 2,100-plus yards have been achieved with four new starters on the offensive line.
What makes Brooks fun to watch, Maberry said, is watching him go for big yards despite opposing teams scheming for his play.
"It's incredible. Week after week, we see him make plays, and I think, 'How in the world does he see that?'" Maberry said. "When we play, teams generally go eight or nine [players] in the box every time, and he's still able to make guys miss in the middle. He just has the patience to let a play develop.
"You're in amazement of how he's able to do things. I mean, to average over 10 yards a carry with eight or nine in the box, that's phenomenal."
Back in March, 4-star Notre Dame commit and Mansfield teammate Paulson Adebo called Brooks "the baddest running back in the state, even the nation." As a contributor in Mansfield's secondary, Adebo talked about the difficulties of defending a guy like Brooks.
Adebo sympathized with defenders—except on game days.
"I don't think I've ever seen somebody make a tackle on him one-on-one," Adebo told Bleacher Report. "He doesn't seem like someone who will break ankles, but he's got really [great] speed. Plus, he can make one cut and make you look completely foolish."
Brooks' ground-and-pound performances have become customary in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It's redundant to see him rush for 200-plus yards and more of breaking news when he has a bad game. The last time he was held under 50 yards was in the first game of his junior year, when he rushed 20 times for only 26 yards against Marcus High School of Flower Mound, Texas.
Since then, he's been an unstoppable machine. He's a running back who is rarely tackled by one defender and someone who makes falling forward for extra yards an art.
"My coaches have taught me to just appreciate the grind," Brooks said. "Appreciate the two yards, the three yards and to keep working until we wear down the defense and break that big run."
As Mansfield's season continues, Maberry will stick with his philosophy. Mansfield will have its senior night on Thursday, and all eyes will be on Brooks doing what he does best.
Being a catalyst. Being a throwback. Being the quintessential running back.
"He is a very tough back," McGuire said. "Football is missing some of that right now."