Penn's Karekin Brooks rushes to historic start

If you’re Penn’s Karekin Brooks, what’s next? Because his football career can go only downhill from here, right?

That’s what happens when you run for 268 yards, four shy of the school record, in your first college start last Saturday at Lehigh, where he scored three times and threw for a touchdown in a 65-47 win. And saw a 61-yard TD with three minutes to go get called back because of a penalty.

Last season as a freshman, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Georgia native carried 21 times for 106 yards. In two games this year, he has rushed for 410 yards and five TDs on 39 attempts, a 10.5 average. And it all happened after senior Tre Solomon suffered an ankle injury early in the opener.

“You have to make sure you’re ready,” the soft-spoken Brooks said. “We have a lot of talented running backs. I just keep my head down, keep working hard, and keep doing whatever the team needs me to do.

“Last year wasn’t hard. I’m patient. I learned a lot from Tre. He’s been helping me these past couple of weeks, since he’s been hurt, making sure I’m on top of everything. I’ve tried to watch and learn from him …

“I liked being part of a championship team [in 2016]. I guess, in a way, this kind of makes me feel more a part of it. Like I’m actually doing something to really help the team more.”

Solomon led the Ivy League with 907 yards on the ground for a team that was able to repeat as champion. It was the most yards by a Penn back in a decade. But when he went down, it became somebody else’s turn.

“They told me I would be like a change-of-pace back,” said Brooks, who had a 64-yard TD run in the opener against Ohio Dominican. “Whenever Tre needed a break, I’d go in. There was no plan. Then I saw him come out and it was time.”

And on his second touch, he fumbled.

“I came back to the sidelines and [position coach Steven Downs] was like, ‘Keep your head up. Don’t let it get to you.’ The next time I got the ball, I made sure I protected it,” Brooks said.

The 410 rushing yards are the most in back-to-back games in program history.

“I haven’t really thought about it that much,” said Brooks, who goes by “KK.” “I didn’t know I was going to get that many carries [29]. I didn’t know I had until later. I thought we were going to go with more of a rotation. I think I had a game my sophomore year of high school [at George Walton in suburban Atlanta] where I got the ball like 48 times in one game.

“Everyone was excited for me. I didn’t really know about the record. When I came off the field, some of the guys were saying, ‘You were so close,’ and things like that. It’s all right. I’m not really worried about records. I’m just trying to get some wins. But I’ve heard from a lot of people. It’s been a good couple of days.

“Tre was really supporting me. He said, ‘Good job. I like the way you’re running. You need to do that all the time.’ ”

Solomon is expected to return at some point relatively soon, though not likely in time for the Ivy opener Friday night against fellow unbeaten Dartmouth at Franklin Field. Penn hasn’t gotten rings in three straight years since the mid-1980s.

“We can be a two-headed monster,” said Brooks, the second oldest of six brothers. “And we have more than that. All of us can contribute. And we’re all young, except for Tre. It’ll be fine.”

It will  have to be. Coach Ray Priore said that when the time comes, he will do whatever the staff believes gives the Quakers the best chance.

“You never know with a young man who truly hasn’t taken a lot of snaps,” he explained. “Injuries happen. You hope the next man up is going to be there. We’re not surprised. But obviously, we’re very excited. It’s a long season. Building depth is the key to success in any program.

“He comes from a really humble background. He’s a yes-sir, no-sir kind of kid. … I’d say Tre runs with more vision. KK sees it and goes. He’s stout. We’ll see if it becomes a problem. I’m hoping both can stay healthy. And then we’ll have to find a way to make it work.”

Which is always way better than not having enough capable possibilities, right?

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have high expectations,” Brooks said. “We only get 10 games a season. You have to take advantage of all of them. It goes fast. I don’t think Dartmouth cares at all about any of this.

“You have to go out and prove it every week.

“One of my coaches in high school said it’s not a good thing to have potential, you know.”

Encore that.