Former walk-on Brookins proving reliable for Hoosiers

The stat line is unremarkable.

Zero carries and only two catches for 15 yards.

But make no mistake, Ricky Brookins did his job.

The redshirt junior running back was strong in pass protection, while his 12-yard reception on a third-and-12 midway through the third quarter was a key play in keeping alive what appeared to be a promising drive.

During Saturday’s loss at Michigan State, Brookins fulfilled every request from Indiana’s offensive staff, earning IU’s weekly offensive player of the week honor.

Consider it more of what Hoosier coaches have come to expect from the former walk-on.

“(He) really has always been dependable,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “Love him for that and his character.”

Brookins isn’t the first name that comes to mind in Indiana’s backfield. But during the past year, the Terre Haute native has asserted himself as a player IU coaches don’t forget.

He’s appeared in 27 games since 2015, complementing his natural running skills with pass catching ability out of the backfield and in the slot.

The breakthrough for Brookins came during last year’s Foster Farms Bowl loss to Utah, when he received a career-high 12 carries and posted 53 yards in the postseason defeat.

“I think I kind of showed them that I can be the starting back, like the guy that can run the ball, pass protect, go out for routes and stuff like that,” Brookins said.

That’s essentially what he did last weekend against the Spartans. Brookins demonstrated great awareness on the third-and-12 conversion in the second half, lunging for the first down marker as he was tackled out of bounds. Officials reviewed the spot, but ultimately determined Brookins made the play as called.

“He’s smart when he has the ball,” IU quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “When he catches the ball, he’s worried about getting north and south and making somebody miss.”

Brookins was arguably the most dynamic player in Conference Indiana during the 2013 season, rushing for 2,012 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per carry and scoring 27 touchdowns to earn all-state honors as a senior for Terre Haute North.

Small schools expressed interest, but Brookins had other plans.

“I wanted to go big,” he said.

Meaning the Big Ten.

Of course, nothing was guaranteed for Brookins as a preferred walk-on with the Hoosiers, but he was determined to earn a place in IU’s running back rotation.

Across the past year, he has.

Last month at Penn State, Brookins scored his first career touchdown on a two-yard run. Last week at Michigan State, he met each of his coach’s objectives, glamorous or not.

“I just want to keep doing more in bigger situations,” Brookins said.