Zac Brooks broke loose during the third quarter of last Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech for a 35-yard touchdown run.
It was just the second time since the middle of the 2013 season that the Clemson senior running back had a carry that went for a score, largely because of a foot injury that cost him all of the 2014 season.
However, Brooks’ biggest impact on the No. 5 Tigers, who host Boston College on Saturday at 7 p.m., can’t be found in a box score. Despite tallying just 12 carries (for 106 yards and two touchdowns) behind successful workhorse running back Wayne Gallman, Brooks is one of the most important Tigers in this backfield unit. That’s according to co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who had a talk with Brooks after he suffered a shoulder injury during fall camp.
“I told him first and foremost, understand you’re importance to me is never going to be measured by statistics,” Elliott said. “The culture in our running backs room would not be what it is without Zac Brooks and that leadership he provides because of his daily commitment to be his best, to always have a positive attitude.”
Elliott said Brooks prepares every week like he’s the starter, and he demands that Gallman, who ranks third in the ACC with 536 rushing yards, does the same because Brooks learned that from former Tiger Andre Ellington.
“I try to keep the guys focused,” Brooks said. “I push them all because I’ve been here the longest and I’m seen as the leader of the group.
“We see each other like a flock of geese. Every goose has its part in leading the pack. When we’re on the field, Wayne goes out there first so, he’s the first impression of the group of running backs. He represents us, and we take pride in how we represent one another.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Brooks, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jonesboro, Ark., native, was going to be the starter last season before he went down. Even though he couldn’t participate, Brooks was one of the best leaders on the team and challenged his teammates. Swinney said Brooks is an inspiration to the rest of the team after battling through the injuries.
“(The injury) slows you down and it helps you think and it helps you realize what it’s all about,” said Brooks, who had 246 rushing yards in 2013 and 119 in 2012. “I’m fine with where I am. I’m fine with what I do. I always wish for more, but I’m going to take advantage of everything that I’m given.”
Brooks passed C.J. Davidson as the backup to Gallman, who’s on pace for more than 210 carries.
Elliott said Gallman’s built for a big workload, but a back can only take so many hits. He wants Gallman to signal out more to stay fresh for late in games. That could mean more carries for Brooks.
“Just continued to be me, continued to work hard and continued to take advantage of every opportunity I’ve had because opportunities don’t come every day,” Brooks said. “There’s not a lot of those. I feel like I’ve waited for my opportunities.”
Tigers vs. Eagles
Who: Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. Boston College (3-3, 0-3)
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Clemson by 15