Every football program has its own personality, its own defining trait or traits.
Big 12 teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma are known for airing the ball out and spreading the defense with their quick passing games. Georgia Tech has historically operated with a run-heavy option attack.
At Franklin Field, the running back position has been a strength for the Quakers.
Throughout coach Ray Priore’s time with the program, Penn football has produced a disproportionate amount of the best tailbacks in the Ivy League, from Joe Sandberg in the mid-2000s to Lyle Marsh and Brian Wilcox at the start of the 2010s to Tre Solomon, who was unanimously awarded first team All-Ivy recognition in 2016. In the past decade alone, Penn has had nine All-Ivy running backs.
The most recent great runner in that tradition is Karekin Brooks. The senior captain from Georgia has been the engine behind the Red and Blue attack each of the past two seasons.
As a sophomore, Brooks ranked second in the conference with 6.7 yards per carry on his way to an All-Ivy honorable mention. In his junior season, he took his game to another level, earning second team All-Ivy recognition after rushing for a career-high 898 yards.
This season, Priore anticipates even more production from his star player.
“He’s really, really talented, and we expect a lot out of him,” Priore said. “We want to put the ball in his hands and have him be the marquee player on our offense.”
Having a running-centric offense is nothing new for the Quakers, but when Brooks was first recruited by Priore and company, he wasn’t aware of Penn’s overwhelmingly strong running back tradition.
“During the recruiting process, I didn’t know too much about the past running backs at Penn, but once I got on campus, it was a different story,” Brooks said. “I saw a guy like Tre [Solomon], and how successful he was, and how hard he worked, and then it was pretty clear that this was a great place for running backs.”
Brooks attributes much of his success to the leadership of older backs like Solomon who took him under his wing when Brooks was a freshman. Now, as the senior tailback, the star player, and the captain, it’s on Brooks to assume that leadership role.
According to both his coaching staff and his teammates, Brooks has proven more than capable of doing so.
“[Brooks] is a very, very humble young man who is also one of the hardest workers on this football team, if not the hardest worker,” Priore said. “He owns it. He’s always there helping out the young guys. It’s not just what he does for himself, but it’s also what he does for the guys around him. He truly leads by example.”
Echoing those sentiments is sophomore running back Trey Flowers.
“[Brooks] helped me just as much off the field as he did on the field,” Flowers said. “With academics and adjusting to college life, he was really important.”
Flowers, who played in seven games last season as a freshman, joins Brooks in an talented running back room.
Between Brooks, Flowers, junior Isaiah Malcome, and walk-on senior Dante’ Moore, the position is loaded with talent.
Priore describes it as “the position with the most depth,” while Brooks says, “Our running back stable is as crazy as it’s ever been.”
Considering the program’s history of recruiting and developing elite running backs, those statements shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Brooks has already etched his name with the other great Penn tailbacks, and it looks like some of these younger players could be on their way to doing the same.
If that’s the case, the rest of the Ivy League might want to start crowding the box.
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