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Junior running back Canaan Brooks takes a handoff from sophomore quarterback Braden Gleason during an exhibition game this spring. Brooks joined the Hornets in January after playing his first two seasons at South Dakota.

Canaan Brooks felt at home at Emporia State right away.

Soon after making the decision to enter the transfer portal, the 6-foot, 205-pound junior running back from St. Louis got a call from Emporia State head coach Garin Higgins, who pitched the benefits of playing for his Hornet program.

What Higgins said caught Brooks’ ear and he was soon convinced.

“I felt like this was a great place for me to be,” Brooks said. “It was a family environment. So here I am.”

Brooks played his first two seasons of college football at South Dakota, a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is arguably the best league in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision and home to eight of the last 10 FCS national champions (all of which are North Dakota State).

“Playing against the best competition in the FCS, it was a grind every week, it was a battle every week,” he said. “I think it really prepared me to play against any competition there is out here. It was a really fun experience to be able to play in the Missouri Valley.”

Brooks saw the field in 10 games as a true freshman in 2018, making his college football debut at Kansas State on Sept. 1. That year, he was the team’s fourth-leading rusher, carrying the ball 55 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also had six receptions for 29 yards.

In 2019, he played in all 12 games and was third on the Coyotes squad with 505 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 114 attempts. He added seven receptions for 43 yards and one kick return for 22 yards.

But for one reason or another, things “just weren’t really working out at South Dakota” and Brooks felt it was time to move on. He arrived in Emporia on Jan. 9 and went about getting to know his new teammates, school and community.

He didn’t have to work too hard to settle in.

“It was honestly one of the easiest transitions I’ve ever made in my life,” Brooks said. “Guys, they accepted me right away, they made me feel like family right away, so it was a pretty easy transition.”

Higgins said that Brooks was a slam-dunk addition to the team because he brings something to the table that the Hornets haven’t had in some time.

“Canaan’s maybe something that we haven’t had here in a while, where he’s a bigger back, he’s physical, he has great speed and he’s very strong,” he said. “ … He’s one of those backs that can do everything for us from the standpoint of pass-blocking, running routes, catching the ball, running the football.”

Brooks described himself similarly.

“I think I’m a ‘do-it-all’ back,” he said. “I have speed, I have power, explosion. I also love to catch the ball out of the backfield and I take pride in blocking as well.”

Higgins said that Brooks will be part of a committee of running backs — including Calvin Boyce, Billy Ross and Peyton Henry — who will carry the ball a significant amount for Emporia State this season.

“You have to have an abundance of running backs because — knock on wood — you don’t want anybody to get hurt, but that’s a position that takes a lot of physical pounding throughout the year,” he said. “They’re all going to have to provide not only depth but also they’re all going to have the opportunity to get some playing time.”

For his part, Brooks doesn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight, saying that he doesn’t have a specific role in mind for himself but rather wants to do “whatever they need me to do to be able to win games and be competitive. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Dakota postponed its fall 2020 season to the spring of 2021, just after Brooks arrived at Emporia State. Therefore, like his fellow Hornets, Brooks hasn’t played an official football game since November of 2019.

He said that what he’s looking forward to most about kicking off the season at Northeastern State on Sept. 4 is the opportunity to go head-to-head with actual opponents again.

“I love to compete, I love to be out there to fight and win,” he said. “I think that’s the most exciting part about the season, being able to compete for a championship.”

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