The added eligibility given to NCAA athletes after the COVID pandemic has made college football an “older” sport across the board, but even that ignores Jack Brooks’ veteran status.
Brooks, in his fourth season as South Alabama’s main punter, is 29 and would be the rare 30-year-old college football player if he chooses to return for a fifth year in 2023. The Wagga Wagga, Australia , a native came to American football late, playing club rugby as a youth and working as a landscaper for several years before entering the famed ProKick Australia program and eventually landing with the Jaguars in 2018.
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Brooks is actually older than South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack — who is 35 — than most of his teammates. He’s not quite enough to be their father, but it’s close.
“The age gap is very different, but I just try to help the boys any way I can,” Brooks said. “I thought about it a lot, coming back for what would be my fifth year. But I’m taking things as they are and I’m happy here.
In addition to his punting duties, Brooks is also in the middle of the “chain” on field goals and extra points, working as a starter between snapper Travis Drosos and kicker Diego Guajardo. The trio are a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals and 25-for-26 on extra points, the only one missing a kick that hit both uprights before falling to the ground at Michigan Center in Week 2 .
Brooks averaged a consistent 42.3 yards per punt during his career at South Alabama, averaging between 41.7 and 43.1 each season. That reliability led Wommack to reward him this week with the honorary No. 5 jersey, which he will wear on Saturday when the Jaguars (5-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) travel to Arkansas State (2- 6, 1-4) .
“For a locker room full of 18-22 year olds, he’s the best 29-year-old teammate you could ask for,” Wommack said. “He’s a great teammate. Sometimes specialists get stigmatized, all they do is go out and kick but he works his cock in the weight room. He’s always looking for hanging out with his teammates and engaging these guys in a fun way. And he brings the energy to practice every day and then he produces on game day.
Brooks said, “It’s a great honor and a privilege. I’ve been part of this team for a long time and I always try to do my best in whatever role I’m in.
The No. 5 jersey is awarded each week to a different player from southern Alabama in honor of Anthony Mostella, a former Jaguars running back who died in a motorcycle accident in 2010. Previous winners this season are safety Keith Gallmon (Nicholls), cornerback Darrell Luter (Central Michigan), center James Jackson (UCLA), wide receiver Jalen Wayne (Louisiana Tech), quarterback Desmond Trotter (Louisiana), safety Yam Banks ( Louisiana-Monroe) and quarterback Carter Bradley (Troy).
Southern Alabama Football Practice
• Southern Alabama rushed for a season-high 31 yards in last week’s 10-6 loss to Troy as the Jaguars all but gave up the ground game in the second half.
After runs of 15 and 7 yards on their opening possession and an 11 yard run to set up a field goal just before halftime, the Jaguars’ longest run in the second half was 5 yards. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said there was a lot of blame to be had.
“I’ll start with me, there are certain things in the racing game that we can get to that are our best races,” Applewhite said. “At the same time, we don’t put anything on our call sheet that isn’t a good race. So we have to run. We have to use the right technique. All of these things from a racing game perspective.
“But it’s in every phase, whether it’s in the passing game and the eyes and the presence of the quarterback. It’s about the receiver and how it runs the route. These are the things you go back and look at after a loss and examine more closely than you do after a win. These are things that we need to clean up, and a good defense like that is going to expose those things that we talked about. Everyone took turns based on the ten possessions we had.
Starting running back La’Damian Webb, fresh off a rib/hip injury, rushed for just 14 yards on eight carries against Troy. He was averaging more than 95 yards per game in South Alabama’s first five games, then suffered the injury on his second rush on Oct. 15 against Louisiana-Monroe.
• Arkansas State is expected to reunite with James Blackman for Saturday’s game after the veteran quarterback missed last week’s loss to Louisiana through injury.
Blackman, a transfer from Florida State, threw for 1,695 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception this year. AJ Mayer started in place of Blackman last week and went 8 for 23 for 155 yards and a touchdown with an interception before he was also injured and true freshman Jaxson Dailey finished things off in the Red Wolves 38-18 defeat.
“Their quarterback, James Blackman, is an athletic, long player who plays with a lot of confidence,” South Alabama defensive coordinator Corey Batoon said. “I think he has a very strong arm. He throws a very nice deep ball.
Arkansas State ranks sixth in the Sun Belt with 28.8 points per game, but 12th with 31.1 points allowed. During their three-game losing streak, the Red Wolves have been outscored 100-57, averaging two touchdowns per game.
• The latest bowl projections for South Alabama are all over the map, as you’d expect after the loss to Troy saw the Jaguars lose first place in the Sun Belt West Division.
USA Today’s Erick Smith still predicts the Jaguars will win the Sun Belt Championship and travel to the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21. In this scenario, Smith associates southern Alabama with Texas-San Antonio.
247 Sports’ Brad Crawford also has South Alabama facing UTSA, but in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 16 in Orlando. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm pitches the Jaguars to the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17 in Frisco, Texas against Fresno State.
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura has South Alabama in the Boca Raton, Florida Bowl on Dec. 20 against Rice. Fellow Mark Schlabach expects the Jaguars to travel to Montgomery for the Dec. 27 Camellia Bowl against Buffalo.
Athlon’s Steve Lassan also has Southern Alabama in the Camellia Bowl, but against Kent State. The Jaguars played the first game of bowling at the Cramton Bowl in 2014, losing to Bowling Green.
College Football News and The Sporting News’ Bill Bender both have the Jaguars playing at their home stadium for the LendingTree Bowl on December 17. And both predict that South Alabama will face Buffalo.
• Kickoff Saturday is set for 3 p.m. at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. The match will be televised live via ESPNU.