A number of injuries have ravaged the Elon University football team’s backfield.
Season-ending injuries to senior Karl Bostick, broken leg, and sophomore B.J. Bennett, broken arm, altered the landscape of the running back position from one of the deepest positions on the team to one of the thinnest.
But with those injuries came opportunity for others. Junior Tracey Coppedge jumped into the starting role as the only healthy scholarship running back remaining, and redshirt freshman Kelly Brooks-Muse, a walk-on, slid into the backup role.
Coppedge’s struggles against the bigger, more physical competition of the Colonial Athletic Association meant that Brooks-Muse got a chance to show what he can bring to the table.
“Kelly’s been practicing pretty well,” said Elon head coach Rich Skrosky. “We’ll continue to get them about equal reps. Tracey’s not a big, big back so you have to be careful on how much he handles it.”
For Brooks-Muse, getting out onto the field for the first time was a dream come true.
“It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of since I was a little boy playing youth football,” he said. “I’ve always told myself I’m going to play Division I football and now I’m having that chance and opportunity.”
The Vienna, Virginia, native carried the ball three times for seven yards against the University of Delaware Oct. 10, the first carries of his college career. In the four games since, Brooks-Muse has carried the ball 13 times, but the most notable rush came against the University of Richmond Oct. 25.
Trailing in the fourth quarter to the nationally-ranked Spiders, Brooks-Muse shouldered the load on the ground. On second-and-goal from the Richmond 3-yard line, sophomore quarterback John Loughery handed the ball off to Brooks-Muse, who took it into the end zone for a touchdown.
“It was amazing,” he said.
The game took place one day before Brooks-Muse’s 20th birthday, and his touchdown was made extra special with his family in attendance.
But getting there wasn’t easy. Brooks-Muse worked hard in the offseason to put himself in position to be ready if his number were to be called. Over the summer he lived with Coppedge, who he described as a valuable resource.
“I ask [Coppedge] questions whenever I need it,” Brooks-Muse said. “I see him as like a big brother to me. I look up to him and he’s a great guy.”
For Brooks-Muse, stepping into Skrosky’s offensive system provided a level of comfort. He played in a similar up-tempo offense in high school and blitz pickups, among other facets, are much of the same.
“The biggest difference to me is the speed of the game,” Brooks-Muse said. “During practice, we have mistakes and you can correct them right then and there but when you’re out on the field, you can’t make up your mistakes — you live or die by it.”
With two games remaining in a lost season, Brooks-Muse wants to take advantage of his opportunity to be in the conversation at starting running back in 2015. Skrosky said that Coppedge and Brooks-Muse will get similar reps from here on out.
“I’m just trying to give all I got and show the coaches that I’m here and I’m ready to play no matter what,” Brooks-Muse said. “I just keep trying to improve on my skill and level of play each and every game.”
Whether that means getting just one carry in a game or getting 20, Brooks-Muse understands his position. He is a walk-on and will play in whatever role he is told.
“Being a walk-on, my position was to be the player or have the role that the team wanted me to be,” he said. “I’m giving 100 percent and I’m doing that right now. If they wanted me just to be a scout-team player, I would’ve done that. I just want to do my part.”