When the Atlanta Falcons selected Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round of the NFL draft, Chris Brooks and others in the BYU running backs room were all smiles. They each have a similar dream.

NFL Hall of Famer, former BYU Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young told “BYU Sports Nation” this week he believes Allgeier is right where he needs to be.

“Tyler is in a great spot to go play,” Young said. “I think Tyler starts by Week 3.”

Allgeier joins Detroit Lions and former Cougar Jamaal Williams as NFL road graders, even pioneers, for future BYU running backs, including Brooks.

The Cal transfer hopes to follow in their footsteps, both at LaVell Edwards Stadium this fall and in the 2023 NFL draft next spring.

Sets of three

Surfers know that ocean waves break in sets of three. BYU’s ground attack is in a similar pattern. Brooks follows Allgeier and Williams as Californians, each is a Black student-athlete, each was raised by a single mother, each is admittedly a survivor of a challenging childhood, each is a member of a faith different from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors BYU, and each chose to play football in Provo.

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As the first wave, Williams (2012-16) finished as the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher with 3,901 yards. Allgeier (2018-2022) is BYU’s all-time single season rushing leader with 1,601 yards. Brooks, the third wave, will get his first carry for the Cougars on Sept. 3 at South Florida with the same goal in mind — run like the wind and earn a job in the NFL.

Brooks is 6-1 and 235 pounds. He’s bigger than both Williams (6-0, 212) and Allgeier (5-11, 215), but the shoes they left for him to fill are enormous.

Born in Tonga and a beachgoer himself, BYU coach Kalani Sitake knows the third breaking wave to hit the shoreline is often the biggest and most powerful. Brooks had that kind of an impact at Cal when he hit the line of scrimmage.

How his skill set translates into game performances at BYU remains to be seen, but his spring practice debut left offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick eager to ride his game plan on another big wave from California.

A tale of two freshmen

The long wait was over. After months of conditioning and practice, 52,602 BYU fans were finally getting the chance to cheer on their beloved Cougars in the Sept. 8, 2018, home opener against Cal.

BYU was fresh off a 28-23 win at Arizona and the Bears had just beaten North Carolina 24-17 in their home opener in Berkeley.

On each respective sideline stood two wide-eyed freshmen — Brooks and Allgeier. They fired general glares across the field toward each other, completely unaware of who or what they were looking at, and with no idea how their lives would eventually align.

“I remember it got loud when one of our running back’s fumbled and BYU returned it for a touchdown,” Brooks said. “I just played on special teams, but we came out flying around.”

After three hours and 29 minutes of battle, just before midnight, Cal completed its 21-18 victory and both players left the field having made no impact on the outcome.

Brooks, who was still using Brown as his last name, played sparingly on special teams, but never touched the football. Instead, he watched seven teammates carry the ball and seven receivers catch passes.

Across the way, under the glimmering lights on the BYU sideline, Allgeier stood and stayed there the entire game. The walk-on running back/linebacker watched eight teammates carry the football and 11 catch passes.

It wasn’t their time, but it was coming.

During the months and years ahead, their respective roles changed dramatically. Brooks even changed his last name to honor his single mother, Raquel Brooks. 

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With perseverance, he fought through injury and emerged as Cal’s leading rusher in 2021 and finished with 1,734 career yards and 21 total touchdowns. In his last game with the Bears on Dec. 4 in Berkeley, the Oceanside, California, product rushed 14 times for 49 yards and scored two touchdowns in Cal’s 24-14 win against USC. It was a far cry from his empty box score at BYU four years earlier.

Allgeier’s last impression with the Cougars was even more impressive. He rushed 27 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns against UAB in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 18. The Fontana, California, product broke Luke Staley’s single-season rushing record with 1,601 yards. He also finished his BYU run at No. 5 all-time in rushing with 2,899 yards and 37 total touchdowns.

Allgeier opted out early for the NFL and is settling into his new team in Atlanta as the Falcons’ fifth-round draft pick. Brooks completed his psychology degree at Cal, and with the freedom offered to a grad transfer, he chose to catch his final wave at BYU with the assignment of filling the void left by Allgeier.

Philosophy over vacancy

Brooks said early in his BYU commitment that he chose the Cougars over offers from Purdue, Arizona State and Notre Dame. He was sold on Sitake’s philosophy of “love and learn,” not on BYU’s vacancy in the backfield. He didn’t drive to campus on a gas tank fueled with promises or a bank account stuffed with NIL money. Instead, he showed up with the understanding that with hard work he could earn the starting position. 

“Everything is earned, not given. I have to earn it, like anybody else. I am not walking in here expecting anything.” — BYU running back Chris Brooks

“Everything is earned, not given. I have to earn it, like anybody else,” Brooks told the Deseret News when he arrived for spring drills. “I am not walking in here expecting anything.”

The caveat with the Cougars is an offensive line that is both big in size and experience. The projected starting six, including Dallin Holker or Isaac Rex at tight end, will give Brooks a front line that averages 6-6 in height and 308 pounds.

Williams, the school’s all-time leading rusher, ran behind a center that was 6-0 (on a good day) and 290 pounds (after a big meal). Brooks will run behind Connor Pay who is 6-5 and 312 pounds (every day). The grad transfer, who wants to dabble in real estate after football, already knows the key ingredient to moving a land deal, or the ball, forward is location, location, location.

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Firmly planted behind BYU’s massive and experienced front line, with a veteran quarterback (Jaren Hall) and a receiving corps that may be among the best in school history (Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney, Keanu Hill and Chase Roberts), Brooks is in a perfect location, for his relocation, to finish his collegiate career.

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He is the third wave in a set of three California running backs to break along the base of the Rocky Mountains at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Time will tell if Brooks is the biggest and most powerful of the three, but he is clear evidence that BYU’s gravitational pull on talented football players is growing stronger.

The Cougars are taking a one-year moonshot on Brooks, and he is doing the same with BYU. As a result, the tide is high, the surf is up and a promising third wave is gaining strength just offshore.

It’s expected to hit on BYU’s first offensive possession Sept. 3 at South Florida.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.

BYU running back Chris Brooks gets in some reps during 2022 spring camp in Provo. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo
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