Texas Rb Jonathon Brooks Honors Father's Memory With Every Touchdown For No. 3 Longhorns

Texas running back Jonathon Brooks (24) breaks away for a touchdown run against Kansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas running back Jonathon Brooks (24) breaks away for a touchdown run against Kansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When Texas running back Jonathon Brooks gets to the end zone, he celebrates with a tap of his right forearm.

It is a quick and subtle gesture that can be easy to miss, but it's a powerful one for Brooks. His arm is tattooed with the Roman numerals for 3-28-22, for March 28, 2022, the date his father James “Skip” Brooks died at age 49 after long struggles with kidney failure.

“I really just miss, whenever I have success, the smile on his face,” Brooks said. “I think about that every time I score.”

Brooks has been the breakout player for No. 3 Texas through the first five games of 2023. He leads the league in rushing with 597 yards and has scored five touchdowns for the Longhorns (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) heading into Saturday's showdown with No. 12 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0). He has three scores of 37 yards or longer.

In an offense full of big-play potential, coach Steve Sarkisian calls Brooks a “home run hitter” for the Longhorns. And that says a lot for a third-year back who didn't even start the season as the top replacement for the electric Bijan Robinson, who left for the NFL after last season.

That honor went to freshman C.J. Baxter, who left the first game game with a rib injury. Brooks has simply taken over since then.

“We felt like (Baxter) had earned the opportunity to be the first back out,” Sarkisian said. “Things have shifted some.”

Brooks' 597 yards through five games exceeds Robinson's 515 at the same point last season. And while he may not have Robinson's effortless elusiveness, Brooks has proven he can bring a similar combination of speed, power and elite moves in space.

“Now he’s making safeties miss,” Sarkisian said. “When you can do that ... ."

When a running back can do that, he can get to the end zone in a hurry.

Brooks ran for 217 yards in last week's 40-14 win over Kansas, including a 54-yard touchdown and a 67-yarder. Both were plays that started in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Once he was past the first line of defenders, Brooks gave another tackler a quick shake and he was off and running.

In a 38-6 win at Baylor, he scored the first touchdown with speed when he bounced off right tackle, got to the edge and outraced a defender 40 yards to the end zone.

Brooks has three consecutive 100-yard games. In the win at Alabama, he ran six times for 29 yards and picked up two first downs as the Longhorns killed the final seven minutes off the clock.

All of it comes with a a bit of an “aw-shucks” attitude. Brooks has said he doesn't consider himself very vast.

It was easy to overlook Brooks when the do-everything Robinson was around. Yet he showed glimpses of things to come. When Robinson skipped the Alamo Bowl, Brooks scored twice against Washington.

Brooks was a freshman when his father died. It happened during spring practice. Skip Brooks, who had a kidney transplant years earlier, had gone back into dialysis, and after another surgery developed a blood clot that traveled to his heart.

Brooks' mother, Jennifer Donovan, scrambled a family member to campus to pull him out of practice for the 90-minute drive to the hospital in tiny Halletsville to say goodbye to his father.

“That had to be the longest drive,” Donovan said.

More than 30 Longhorns players and coaches attended the funeral and packed Shiner Lutheran Church for the service.

“Those guys are huge. It was sweet. It was awesome,” Donovan said.

Sarkisian said the Texas program tried to “put an arm around” Brooks to help him get through his grief.

“His teammates did a great job when his father passed. They were all there for him, our coaches were there for him," Sarkisian said. "We try to pick our guys up ... I had an idea of what I wanted our culture to be, but these players have elevated to a space above and beyond what I thought it could be.”

Jennifer Donovan said Brooks and his family felt it. And she's watched him grow through the grief and find his place on the football field.

“He went to college and became a man,” Donovan said.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll