I honestly never saw this coming

Cartel Brooks was a great running back at Galion High School.

But who could predict what he’d become at Heidelberg?

That he’d set an NCAA record for rushing yards in a game.

That his achievement would be listed on the ESPN(dot)com homepage, and his name would crawl across the bottom of the screen during the nationally-televised games by the network.

It’d be nice to say I expected this, since I saw Brooks as a high schooler.

But that wouldn’t be true.

I saw Brooks play once in high school. It was 2009, and Columbian went to Galion for a Northern Ohio League game.

Brooks had a very good season, but on that night, the Tornadoes kept him in check. He had 16 rushes for 75 yards, in a game the Tigers won, 20-13.

Brooks stood out, to be sure, with a quick burst and some physical rushing.

But he wasn’t dominant.

When he arrived at Heidelberg for the 2011 season, it seemed like he’d be a good complementary back to Germany Woods, who had wowed everyone in 2010. Woods did so again in ’11 (he set a school record for rushing in a season, a record Cartel broke Saturday) but Brooks became a special teams ace and a promising back as Heidelberg went 8-2.

When word spread in that offseason that Woods was leaving HU for Mount Union, I called HU coach Mike Hallett.

No matter how bad the news is, college football coaches – and football coaches in general – don’t like to dwell on it. They spin it as a positive. If one player’s leaving, that only increased the opportunity.

Even so, I was surprised how well Hallett was taking the departure. Did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

In a word, yes.

Hallett will never take anything away from Woods, who was brilliant in his two seasons at Heidelberg. But Brooks has been phenomenal.

He appeared to reach the top of his abilities Oct. 19 at Otterbein, when he ran for 337 yards, breaking a Heidelberg single game rushing record that stood for 14 years.

As it turns out, that performance was just the beginning. After back-to-games in which Brooks did not rush for 100 yards – two games Heidelberg lost – Brooks appeared to take his frustration out on Baldwin Wallace Saturday.

He ran for 465 yards against the Yellow Jackets, something no NCAA player has done.

A few weeks ago, in a feature about Brooks, the running back was typically modest when he talked about breaking a school record. He credited his offensive line for his success, and only talked about team goals.

I wonder when – or if – it will hit him what he’s done this season. The best part for Heidelberg is he’s only a junior.

And yet, having talked to Brooks several times, I get the sense that no record will mean as much to him as another trip to the playoffs. Every coach I’ve talked to says the same thing about him.

Brooks was limited in the playoff game against Wittenberg last year because of an injury. This year, it looks like HU won’t make the postseason.

Brooks has one more year to go.

Look out, everybody.

Zach Baker is the sports editor at The Advertiser-Tribune.

Contact him at:

zbaker@advertiser-tribune.com or on Twitter @Zachthewriter