By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Talking about someone eating, drinking, or sleeping an activity is a creative way to describe the dedication the person has to the particular craft. Right now, Clemson’s coaching staff would like to be able to say all of their players are eating, drinking, and sleeping football.
Except for Zac Brooks. They just want to know he’s eating.
The sophomore running back is attempting to grow into the big back Clemson fans were promised out of high school by upping his calorie intake. Protein bars, fruit, milkshakes, and other sure-fire weight-producers are currently dominating his diet.
Up until this point, Brooks has seen little action on the field. He arrived at Clemson weighing 178 pounds and was too slender to inspire much confidence when it came to pass blocking and general toughness last season. To bulk up, he has made good use of his parents’ home-cooked meals since they moved into the area, and he says his weight is now up around 195 pounds due to a combination of the special diet and significant off-season weight training.
There is no question where Brooks stands among his peers. Now in a crowded backfield situation where he is being pushed by first-year players, Brooks has carried a sense of urgency into preseason camp.
“It’s big for me,” he said of the upcoming season. “If I don’t play, I probably will second-guess myself. I know that I’ve worked hard enough to put out more than what I put out last year. I really believe that the coaches have more confidence in me because I’ve shown them more.”
Brooks came to Clemson after spurning local schools as the top-rated recruit in Arkansas. He quickly found himself behind since-departed Andre Ellington and current Tigers Roderick McDowell and D.J. Howard on the depth chart. Now freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman are getting rave reviews, and Brooks is feeling the heat.
Brooks received two pieces of advice from his coaches after last season: Bulk up and improve the little things.
The Arkansas native has put an emphasis on ball security this season. It is the one aspect of offensive football that has been stressed more than any other by offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and Brooks understands and appreciates that better than anyone. His fumble on the first day of practice provoked Morris’ wrath. The coach called it “unacceptable” and vowed it would stop happening, one way or another.
But Brooks sees a lot of progress in his game, particularly as a blocker. The coaches seem more comfortable turning to him in passing situations now, and Brooks says watching Ellington excel in this area a season ago has played a big role in his own personal development.
“I think my blocking has come up tremendously,” he said. “I believe I’m a whole lot better blocker than I was last year just because of knowledge and the fundamentals of it.
“When you can see yourself making a mistake, and you can tell the coach, ‘I did that,’ that’s growth. I’m recognizing more of what I’m doing wrong and I’m learning how to fix my own mistakes.”
Morris wants Brooks to have a better grasp of the playbook and the pigskin before the season begins on Aug. 31. If he takes care of those things as well as the protein shake a staffer brought to him during his interview session, there should be no more cause for concern.