Overcoming adversity, Shannon Brooks returns to the gridiron

After a slew of hardships, Brooks is back to help the Gophers.

Running back Shannon Brooks carries the ball at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. The Gophers defeated Illinois 40-17 bringing their record to 5-0. 

Sydni Rose

Running back Shannon Brooks carries the ball at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. The Gophers defeated Illinois 40-17 bringing their record to 5-0. 

John Miller

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming the thing you once thought you couldn’t.”

Those words are a part of a sleeve tattoo on Gophers running back Shannon Brooks’ right arm. The tattoo is a part of a dedication to his mother, Sharon Brooks, who passed away last year. 

“She was like the closest lady in my life,” said Brooks. “She taught me a lot of things. The one thing that I can take from her now that she’s gone, and when she was alive too, was just love. Just be a loving person, forgive everybody because you are forgiven yourself.” 

The road for Brooks to get where he is today has been a long one. Whether it be a series of major knee injuries, his mother’s death or being arrested, but never charged, last year, Brooks has overcome all the turmoil and is now back to place where he can help the Gophers. 

It’s been one thing after the next for the redshirt senior. With a college career that got off to a fast start, there were high expectations for Brooks. His freshman year in 2015, Brooks displayed plenty of potential as he ran for over 700 yards, averaged almost six yards per carry and had seven touchdowns.

In his sophomore season, his numbers took a dip, but he still finished the season averaging 4.7 yards per carry and accumulating 650 rushing yards and five touchdowns. 

In 2017 and 2018, the dreaded injury bug hit Brooks. He played six games his junior season before going down with an injury. Heading into the 2018 season, Brooks tore the ACL in his left knee right before spring practice. 

He was finally able to come back midway through the 2018 season for a game against Indiana in which he dominated on the ground. He would finish the game with 154 rushing yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. However, he was unable to finish the game, as he would tear the ACL in his right knee, forcing him to miss the season. While he was rehabbing the knee, Brooks said he suffered another setback which extended his time off the field.

“I was playing well, felt confident and then boom, the other knee. That sucked,” Brooks said. “I felt just like giving up.”

Before 2018, Brooks never had knee injuries in his career. He’s had three since. The injuries caused Brooks to reflect on whether or not his playing career was over, but he said he knew he couldn’t give up.

“I obviously want to play at the next level, and also I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” said Brooks. “If they believe in me, I know I still got it.” 

Brooks has received support from a variety of places. He and fellow running back Rodney Smith, who like Brooks is from Georgia, have helped each other grow throughout their respective careers. 

“When I got up here, and I saw he was a running back [and] he’s from Georgia too, I just wanted to bond with him immediately,” Brooks said about his relationship with Smith. “He showed me the ropes. Our bond just grew over the years.”

Smith has said previously that without Brooks, he doesn’t know if he would have been able to deal with his injuries and continue his career.

It hasn’t just been Smith or the players, it’s been people from all around the program who continue to provide Brooks with constant support.

“I’m just glad to have a great support staff here and a great family here, coaches, players, family — everybody … around the building,” said Brooks. I’m just grateful to have them to support me and be on my side.”

Brooks is finally healthy, and after missing the first four games of the year, he is already providing the Gopher rushing attack with a little extra boost.

“Anytime you put somebody with that type of talent into an offense, it’s definitely going to help,” said offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

With a stagnant run game to begin the season, Brooks played a feature role in powering the offense in his second game back. After receiving only a handful of carries against Purdue, head coach P.J. Fleck and Ciarrocca unleashed Brooks against Illinois to provide a steady one-two punch with Smith. Brooks’ day might have gone a little under-the-radar due to Smith rushing for a career-high 211 yards, but he finished the day with 111 yards rushing on 16 carries, good enough for 6.9 yards per carry. 

Despite being a redshirt senior and on the Gophers team for the last five years, Brooks is getting used to live games again.

“It was a big adrenaline rush, honestly,” Brooks said. “I remember one run I broke through the open field, and I didn’t know what to do. I started chopping my feet, trying to juke and go all type of ways. That’s something I have to fix in my game.”

With all the adversity that he has dealt with, many people are excited that Brooks is at a place to help the team, especially his offensive coordinator.

“It was incredibly satisfying to see Shannon have that game that he did,” said Cirraocca. “I’m always really happy for the players when they perform well … but with Shannon, it was extra special for me, I’m not gonna lie. I’m just really proud of him. I’m really, really joyful for him that he’s able to play a game again and play at a high level. A game that I know he loves, because he puts so much into it. So it was really awesome.”

With high praise from his head coach, his coordinator and all of his teammates, and after what he describes as a “really tough year” in 2018, Brooks is just happy to be playing football again.

“It was super fun just to get back out there with the guys and play the game,” Brooks said.