400 – 45.73, Pat Gullet, 1973; 46.18, Henry Brooks, 1992
“We wanted our shot at Baylor and today we got them.”
– Henry Brooks after anchoring the Ragin' Cajuns' 4x400 relay to a 3:03.51-3:03.66 victory over Baylor in the 1991 Drake Relays
Brooks blazed a memorable trail
By Bruce Brown
It's been said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Henry Brooks made sure he didn't miss the opportunity.
Brooks, a former sprint star for USL's Ragin' Cajuns in 1991 and 1992, was introduced to track and field in his youth and it produced a record-setting direction for his life.
“When I was in ninth grade, I didn't know anything about track,” said Brooks, who by then was accomplished in both football and basketball. “When I got to high school, I wanted to try out but didn't know what event I would run.
“So, my first year, the coach said, 'I've got some varsity guys out there running quarters (400 meters). Why don't you go see how you do?' I went out there and outran all those guys.
“From that point forward right there, my high school career took off.”
Before long, Brooks was drawing the attention of college programs. He eventually landed at Blinn Junior College before joining the Cajun program, then wrote his name in the school's record books.
Brooks and teammates Windell Dobson and Larry Moore all signed with USL coach Charles Lancon out of Blinn, providing instant credibility to the rebouilding process.
“I knew them well from my first year coaching at Blinn, and they made a big difference,” said UL assistant Tommy Badon. “Henry was a national level 400-meter runner, and with him we made a big push right away. He was a great kid, tremendous competitor, who was a great fit for the program.”
“Coach Badon got the (Cajun) job, and we decided to come with him,” Brooks said. “My family lived in Houston, and this was close enough for them to come see me run.”
It proved to be quite a show as Brooks became a two-time All-American and USL repeatedly grabbed conference foes by the throat as league champions.
Drake Relays breakthrough
The zenith was the 1991 Drake Relays, when Brooks anchored the Cajuns to victory in both the 4x200 and 4x400 relays, the latter an eye-catching upset of powerful Baylor in the mile exchange.
Add a win in the 4x100, which didn't include Brooks, and the Cajuns swept the three exchanges. It was the first time since Kansas tripled in 1975 (440 yard, 880 yard, mile; after Texas swept in 1959) for a school to rule the meet in those events.
“We did an excellent job up there,” Brooks said. “I ran in an invitational 400 and finished second to Butch Reynolds. And the 4x400 ran exceptionally well. It was a great weekend, especially with the cool weather.”
The 4x200 of Grady Labbe, Ruel Paul, Randolph Brooks and Henry Brooks clocked a school record 1:22.08, while the 4x400 posted a new mark of 3:03.51 with Paul, Labbe, Darryl Granger and Brooks holding off Baylor's 3:03.66 mark. Brooks ran a sizzling 44.8-second anchor leg.
The Bears had won 35 4x400's in a row.
Just weeks before, Baylor held off USL 3:06.64 to 3:06.67 at the Texas Relays, and the Cajuns wanted a return heavyweight bout.
“We weren't scheduled to run at Drake at the beginning of the season,” Badon said. “But on the way back from the Texas Relays, they started to press us to go to Drake to get another opportunity. They lobbied me and coach Lancon.
“So we entered, and Drake actually provided some help for us to go because they could see it would be good competition..”
“We wanted our shot at Baylor, and today we got them,” Brooks told the press after the 4x400. “This is sweet revenge because we owed them. They beat us by .03 of a second at the Texas Relays and we came to Drake because they were coming here and because it's a bigger meet.”
Looking back, Brooks recalled the race.
“I was behind when I got the baton, but not too far,” he said. “I told them, 'just keep me close. If you do that, we're going to win the race.' I positioned myself, got on the heels of the guy from Baylor, stayed with him, and when we came out of the last curve and into the stretch, that's when I put it on right there.
“That put us on the map.”
“It was a great accomplishment,” Badon said.
Telltale 'Shaker' sign
Teammates knew Baylor was in trouble when Brooks got the stick within range, especially once he started moving his head in the final chase. It was a movement that earned him the nickname “Shaker.”
“Henry shook his head when he would come down the straightaway,” Badon said. “When he started to shake, it was generally all over. That gave us a confidence boost.”
“Yeah,” Brooks said, “I was confident. I never doubted myself. For every race, I'd run my best, and if you can beat me then you beat me.”
That, of course, didn't happen too often for Brooks, who anchored the first (3:03.51) and second-best (3:04.84 in 1992) 4x400's in UL history, as well as the No. 1 (1;22.08) 4x200 and ran on the best sprint medley (3:16.30, 1992) in Cajun annals with Granger, Labbe and Joel Chesimet.
His 46.18 in the open 400 is topped only by the blazing 45.73 of the late Pat Gullet in 1973.
“I did a decent job in the 200, but I was more of a 400 guy,” Brooks said. “In the 400, you have a chance to redeem youself if you're slow coming out of the blocks. The 200 is an all-out sprint. There's no margin for error.”
No matter the race, Brooks could count on one thing.
“The workouts were tough, and the work ethic in college was much tougher,” he said. “They raised the bar for expectations. Sometimes it got very rough, and we all competed with each other. You had to practice well just to get a spot in the meet.
“We were all good friends. Everybody got along, but it was competitive. We supported each other and got the thing turned around.”
Back to football, basketball
Brooks has lived in the Lafayette area since starring for the Cajuns, spending much of his time as a well-respected high school football and basketball game official.
“I've called three state football championships so far,” he said. “That's a 15-game season. And, there's so many games in basketball. I've had 20 years in football and this year I'll get to 20 in basketball.
“It keeps me moving around, helps keep me in shape. I love it.”
There are times, of course, when it might be more fun out on the track with the peace and serenity of footsteps around you.
“You have to deal with fan and coaches, hollering and screaming,” Brooks said. “I've tossed coaches before. You don't want to do that, but sometimes they get personal.
“It's worse in basketball. It's a confined space, and you can hear everything the fans say.”
Brooks still looks like he could find that higher gear in the 400. He certainly had it with the Cajuns.
“It was a fun era, fun times,” Badon said.
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Henry and his 1992 Track & Field teammates.
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