After three separate recruiting campaigns over the span of nearly five years, Morgan State football coach Donald Hill-Eley finally has his man. Now, running back Jourdan Brooks is out to prove the wait was worth it.
Once considered by many to be Ray Rice's heir apparent at Rutgers, the redshirt junior transferred to Morgan during this past offseason in search of a starting job. Hill was happy to oblige.
"He finally came on the third try," said Hill-Eley, who twice recruited Brooks out of Seneca Valley High as a linebacker.
Running back, however, is where Brooks made his mark with the Scarlet Knights, racking up nearly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in his two seasons in the Big East, including three 100-yard games. He even had a memorable ESPN moment in 2008, when, during a nationally televised game, his career-best 62-yard run ended when Louisville's Travis Norton dragged him down by one of his trademark dreadlocks, ripping it clean out.
That pain aside, it was a gradual loss of carries that caused him to look elsewhere.
"It was somewhat disappointing, but we were just struggling to run the ball. We tried new things with the Wildcat and different stuff like that, and became more of a passing offense," Brooks said. "I was looking for a school where I could go and compete for a starting job, and a friendly school environment where I could fit in."
He couldn't have found one more friendly than Morgan, where his father, Maurice, was a star middle linebacker in the late 1970s. Maurice and Andrea Simmons-Brooks, both 1980 graduates of the school, even wore sweatshirts to their son's 2008 home game against the Bears that read "Proud Morgan Grad" on the front, and "Prouder Rutgers Parent" on the back.
At 6 feet 2, 230 pounds, Jourdan Brooks has the size to run between the tackles, but also the speed and elusiveness to beat defenders around the corner.
"He is probably one of the most agile runners we've had with that size," Hill-Eley said. "He can run over you, he can run by you and he can take it to the house. We're definitely looking forward to making teams have to defend the run."
Brooks said he learned much of his running technique from Rice during his redshirt year in 2007. He still keeps in touch with the Ravens star, absorbing any advice he can.
"Every play, I just think of something Ray told me or my father told me," said Brooks, who has modest goals for his inaugural season with the Bears. "Really, I just wanted to rush as many times a game as I can … and help Morgan State get back to the MEAC championship."
Morgan State Bears
COACH: Donald Hill-Eley (ninth season, at right)
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
LAST YEAR: 6-5
RADIO: 88.9 FM
STADIUM: Hughes Stadium
TICKETS: $15 general admission, $12 seniors (65 and over)
PARKING: $10 in campus garage
OFFENSE: Multiple pro
DEFENSE: Multiple 4-3
OUTLOOK: Morgan posted its first winning record since 2003 last season but struggled in the MEAC after a 5-1 start. To improve on that, the Bears will need to rely upon several new players at key skill positions, led by sophomore quarterback Donovan Dickerson (below) and running back Jourdan Brooks, a redshirt junior transfer from Rutgers. Dickerson, who has looked sharp during the preseason, got into seven games last season in mop-up duty behind starter Carlton Jackson. Brooks, meanwhile, is somewhat more polished, racking up nearly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Scarlet Knights. Despite the new blood, plenty still remains for Morgan, which returns six starters on offense, led by 6-foot-5, 290-pound left tackle Lawrence Brewer and tight end Lamont Bryant, a first-team all-conference pick during the preseason. Defensively, the Bears struggled to stop the run last season and will be very inexperienced at linebacker. Veterans Bricen Tate, Zary Stewart and Sheldon Jacques return to anchor the defensive line, while second-team All-MEAC pick Darren McKahn leads the defensive backs. The Bears were picked to finish fifth in the nine-team MEAC in a preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors.