It was just one nonpadded spring football practice held indoors because a couple inches of snow blanketed BYU’s practice field behind the Student Athlete Building on Monday, but quarterbacks Jaren Hall and Jacob Conover and head coach Kalani Sitake liked what they saw from one particular running back.
Cal graduate transfer Christopher Brooks, they said, was really impressive.
“That whole (running backs) group is deep and talented, but from what I saw from Chris and the plays he made, he can really fit our scheme,” Sitake said.
The right fit.
Those were pretty much the first words Brooks used when the Deseret News asked after practice Monday why he turned down offers from the likes of Purdue (where he originally committed after entering the transfer portal in early December), San Diego State, Arizona State and Notre Dame and ended up in Provo.
“It’s just a great fit for me, the right philosophy,” said the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder from Oceanside, California, near San Diego. “And the people are great. It’s what Kalani says, the philosophy is ‘love and learn’ here. And that’s what anybody wants to be a part of, and that’s how you get better, even great, at football.”
To hear the guys who were at practice Monday tell it, Brooks is already there.
“Very impressive,” said Conover. “Great first impression.”
“As big as he is, man, he looked light on his feet today,” said Hall. “The same with all the running backs. They looked fast and explosive, and light. You can see the product of all his hard work, and I am excited to see what he does for us.”
That brings up a question that was immediately asked of Sitake: Can Brooks replace the great Tyler Allgeier, who declared for the NFL draft on Dec. 28? Brooks and another Pac-12 grad transfer running back (fullback), Stanford’s Houston Heimuli, committed to BYU on Jan. 5 and immediately enrolled in graduate classes.
“There are a bunch of guys that can play that position, but he looked really, really good today,” Sitake said, while also talking about returning backs Lopini Katoa, Jackson McChesney and Hinckley Ropati. Sione Finau is apparently back playing running back, after giving defensive back a shot last year.
Brooks went by the name Chris Brown his first three seasons at Cal before changing his last name in honor of his single mother, Raquel Brooks, who raised him amid difficult circumstances in Oceanside.
He rushed for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns in four years at Cal, got his bachelor’s degree in psychology and is now working on a post-baccalaureate degree at BYU focusing on business because he wants to pursue a career in real estate when his football playing days are over. Last year, Brooks didn’t begin the season as the Bears’ starter, but got stronger as the year went on. He finished with 602 rushing yards and 19 catches for 131 yards and three TDs in 2021.
Can he be an Allgeier-like workhorse running back at BYU?
“Everything is earned, not given. I have to earn it, like anybody else. I am not walking in here expecting anything,” Brooks said. “I am going to come in here expecting to work every day, just like everybody else. That’s how I have been my whole life. To win games, that’s the mindset everybody needs to have.”
Brooks said Allgeier’s departure — “T-bone” ran 276 times for 1,606 yards and 23 TDs last fall — and the vacancy created by it isn’t the sole reason he chose BYU.
“Maybe that was the coaches’ reason to bring someone else in, but I went solely on their philosophy and whether or not it was a good fit,” he said. “Those were my (main) reasons.”
Brooks first saw Provo and BYU’s campus in 2018, when he was a freshman on the Cal team that upset BYU 21-18 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. He didn’t have a carry or a catch, but went away impressed with the setting and the passion the LES fans had for their team.
Sitake said it is way too early to decide whether Brooks can be a featured back for the Cougars, or whether they will take the running-back-by-committee approach they used in 2019 and 2020, due to injuries and ineffectiveness.
“I am not going to put, like, a deadline on it,” Sitake said. “I don’t know if you guys remember, but there wasn’t a deadline when Tyler took over as the starter. It just kinda happened. So maybe this will be the same way. But, we will see.”
Hall said Brooks certainly looks the part.
“Last year Tyler stepped up and kinda took over, and that’s how it went,” Hall said. “In years past, it was by-committee. So you never know how it will play out.”
Hall said he’s already been impressed by Brooks’ humility and work ethic.
On if he wants a featured back, or RB by committee this year:
“He’s a hard worker,” Hall said. “Every day, he tells me what he needs to do to be better. So he’s committed to being his best self. I am excited for him and hope everything works out for him this year with us.”
Having been through four spring camps at Cal, Brooks said it is too early to say how different for similar BYU’s practices in March will be. However, he has already noticed an emphasis on taking precautions to keep players healthy.
“As far as the tempo goes, for the offense, it is fast, and it is good for us,” he said.
Brooks described himself as a Christian “who is very faithful and believes in God,” but not a member of the faith that sponsors BYU — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Provo is a lot different than Berkeley, where he’s lived the past four years, but he says he is adjusting well, thanks to being in the same house as Heimuli and the other running backs “showing me the ropes around here.”
Meanwhile, he’s shown them how good he can be carrying the football. In just one day.