Tahj Brooks was meant to be a Red Raider despite being born a few miles from Austin and growing up a Longhorn fan. Texas Tech’s leading rusher during its 3-0 start was in love with horses, like the one ridden in celebration of touchdowns in Lubbock, before he knew his future was running on his own two powerful legs.
The only problem was his asthma. Brooks was allergic to the horse blanket required to ride a horse as a kid. He’d outgrow that problem to realize a dream of riding horses without trips to the emergency room.
“He was really into horses. In his downtime, he’d watch ‘The Incredible Dr. Pol’, so we thought he’d end up a veterinarian,” Brooks’ mom Tiffani said. “One of his favorite movies is Seabiscuit, and he still watches that movie to this day.”
Brooks began to blossom into a talented running back with a reputation for putting in hard work at Manor High School, with a perfectly appropriate mascot of the Mustangs, when he debuted as a freshman running back on the varsity squad. Brooks took the accomplishment in stride. He rushed 66 times for 259 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, adding eight catches on the season.
“I was kind of a big kid growing up, so I was always playing with older kids, so it was about having fun playing with older guys that I knew,” Brooks said. “Age is really nothing to me. I’m a teenager playing with grown men right now, so it is about producing.”
Brooks’ evolution at Manor coincided with an improved program. The Mustangs won three games his freshman year. As a senior, Manor made it all the way to the Class 5A Division I quarterfinals. He’d end his four-year varsity career with more than 4,400 rushing yards and 65 total touchdowns. Brooks surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a sophomore, junior and senior. He was a three-time all-district selection.
Brooks built his reputation at Manor in the weight room as much as on the football field. His love for weightlifting began the summer prior to his freshman year when he officially met Manor’s running back coach James Keller, who is now the head coach of the Mustangs.
Keller loves the weight room, and he found a young pupil in the bulky Brooks. Keller would pick Brooks up at 6 a.m. every weekday to take him to the weight room. The two, along with some of the other running backs, would work out prior to school. Brooks would then do his regularly scheduled work out with his team during athletic period, only to return after school for his third lift of the day. He’d do this practically every day for four years.
“His work ethic is unmatched,” Keller said. “He wanted to be great, and he put in the work to reach those goals. From the get-go, he worked out hard.”
That work ethic was noticed by Matt Wells, who was the newly appointed head coach at Texas Tech. Wells needed to change the culture inside his locker room, and that meant recruiting physical, tough football players who thrived in the weight room. Brooks, a three-star recruit, was the perfect candidate. Brooks would sign with Texas Tech in the 2020 recruiting class.
“My first memories of Tahj Brooks are watching him squat the house in the Manor weight room,” Wells said. “Every assistant in that program loved him and described him as a no-nonsense kid. We needed more guys like that in the program. I fell in love with the process he took to play, and prepare, for the game.”
Leaving Austin wasn’t easy. Brooks grew up a Longhorn fan. His family is from Manor. His maternal grandparents graduated from the University of Texas. Brooks himself attended elementary school at Texas after qualifying for the program via a lottery selection. He attended third through fifth grade on the Forty Acres before entering middle school back in Manor.
He’ll return this weekend when Texas Tech plays the Longhorns as the Red Raiders’ leading rusher in the 2021 season. Brooks has 284 yards rushing through two games, including more than 100 yards on the ground in wins over Houston and SFA. That’s surpassed his total of 284 yards on 69 carries as a freshman in 2020.
Brooks might be on the road team, but he’ll be at home. The Brooks family expects dozens of family members and close friends in the stands when an undefeated Tech squad kicks off against a 2-1 Texas program at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
“It is going to feel great. It is a humbling and an amazing opportunity,” Brooks said. “Even though it isn’t my home stadium, I feel like it’ll be like home to play in front of my family and friends.”
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