Without the two-headed monster that devoured opponents on the ground last year, Tulsa is still in great shape as one half of the monster, D’Angelo Brewer, returns.
Losing James Flanders, who set a Tulsa single season rushing record last season with 1,629 yards, will be offset by Brewer’s talent and experience.
It is easy to overlook the fact that Brewer rushed for 1,435 yards, which is fourth on the all-time single season list at TU. Brewer was the starter and lead rusher for the first half of the season until minor injury caused him to miss a game.
Third-year Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery thinks the sky is the limit for Brewer this season.
“D’Angelo’s been in all the wars since I’ve been here,” Montgomery said. “He was a very productive runner for us my first year here, even more productive for us last year. Our standards for him have been set even higher. We’re expecting a lot from him.”
Brewer arrived at TU as a very quick, yet undersized 5-foot-9 athlete who had played quarterback a few miles away at Central High School. He could pass a little, but was basically taking the snaps out of the shotgun because he was Central’s best player, and was really more of a running back.
Fast forward to his first fall on campus, where he could have used a redshirt season, but was needed. He rushed for 128 yards in 2014, and when Montgomery arrived in 2015, his workload increased dramatically, rushing for 837 yards.
Then it was time to increase his size and weight, as running backs who weigh around 170 usually don’t last too long.
“The biggest thing that I think greatly improved him from our first year to last year is he put on some really good weight that allowed him to be healthier throughout the season,” Montgomery said of Brewer, whose weight is now 198 pounds. “He’s put on some good weight and is really strong in the weight room.”
That extra strength allowed Brewer to tie a single game TU record of 46 carries while rushing for 242 yards at Fresno State, and he followed that up with 38 carries for 182 yards against SMU in back-to-back overtime victories.
But it isn’t just Brewer’s increased physique that has him in position to possibly become the leading rusher in Golden Hurricane history. Currently with 2,400 rushing yards, Brewer needs just 1,252 yards to surpass record holder Tarrion Adams’ total of 3,651 yards.
“He has a great understanding of what we are doing offensively,” Montgomery explained. “He has really improved himself as far as being a back that you leave in there every down, whether that is short yardage or passing downs or first and second downs. I think he’s an every down type of back now.
“We’ve got to be able to lean on him to provide us some leadership and really some explosive play that he’s been able to create all the way through it.”
Brewer is the given in the equation. The unknown is who will be his backup. And if last season is any indication, there should be plenty of carries to go around.
Ramadi Warren is the lead candidate, and he has shown that he has the ability to be outstanding. Warren gained 475 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2015 while averaging an impressive 6.7 yards per carry.
Warren was ahead of Flanders on the depth chart going into last season and looked impressive in fall camp before being declared academically ineligible. He lost an entire year of eligibility in 2016.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound junior has to finish some academic requirements this summer to be eligible.
“Ramadi is a guy that can do it all,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to get through some hurdles, but he’s working extremely hard to do that. Out there on the field, he can be really special with the football in his hand.”
Behind Brewer and Warren, there are still several options. Returnees Corey Taylor, Javon Thomas and Rowdy Simon all are in the picture.
“I thought Corey had a really, really good spring,” Montgomery described. “He got very limited action last year. He helped us on special teams, got in there a little bit in the backfield. He’s got to have a good summer and a good fall, but I’m expecting big things from Corey.”
A 5-foot-10, 214-pound sophomore, Taylor is a Holland Hall graduate who transferred from Air Force Prep. He scored a touchdown in the bowl win over Central Michigan last season on one of his five carries for the year.
Thomas provides a bigger option. At 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, Thomas is a load and can be tough to bring down. He played in only one game last season as a redshirt freshman, carrying twice for eight yards.
"Javon Thomas is a little bit different from all the other backs,” Montgomery said. “He’s a bigger guy. He’s got good speed. He’s continuing to grow. I think he’s got a chance to be a special player.”
Simon is a former walk-on from Vian who is a fan favorite. Always productive when he gets a chance, the 5-foot-8, 202-pound senior has rushed for 139 career yards.
“We put Rowdy on scholarship in February. Rowdy’s a guy who has helped us every year that I’ve been here,” Montgomery added. “He’s earned his spot every step of the way. He’s very, very solid in all three phases. He’s a guy that is a move the chains type of back. So I’m excited about him.”
A newcomer who could force his way into some serious playing time is Shamari Brooks, who lit up competition last season while leading Union to the state championship.
“Shamari was Mr. Football in the state of Oklahoma, a guy who had done everything at Union High School,” Montgomery said. “I’m not scared to play young guys. I’ve shown that all the way through.
“I really feel like Shamari will get his shot, and we’ll see what happens. If he’s ready, we’ll use him, if he’s not, then we won’t. He’s a guy who can provide an element of excitement.”
Also coming in is Lincoln Christian’s Reed Martin, who is listed as an athlete. One position he will likely get a shot at is running back.
“I feel like our running back situation is in pretty good standing,” said Montgomery. “Now, you get guys getting banged up, and that changes pretty quick. But I feel good about where we are from a depth standpoint at running back.”