By VINCE ESTRADA
Time to look at the top running backs returning for 2014, and we’ll start with the four kids who were the top rushers in this season’s junior class. We’ll roll through sophomores, too, and we get even got a freshmen for you.
We’ll roll them out in groups of two or three, giving each of the RBs an opportunity to get a little online love. We’ll try to post video with each, too, because what’s the point of telling you about them without seeing them. Here is our last batch of running backs:
CENTRAL CATHOLIC’S MONTELL BLAND: Two sets of numbers explain why Bland makes this list. He had 33 carries for 194 yards and a TD in a 24-21 win over physical Pacheco-Los Banos, and then 16 carries for 103 yards in two TDs in a 36-23 win over Bakersfield Christian in the State Division 4 Bowl. Each time he was filling in for injured Matt Ringer – Black Hat’s Stanislaus County Player of the Year.
BEYER’S JAY GREEN (190 carries, 1,227 yards, 6.5-yard avg. 10 TDs): Patriots’ coach Bill Flasher made a couple bold moves in 2013, committing to a sophomore QB and RB. The results were impressive,producing a Section playoff berth. Green had an impressive season finale in the playoff loss to Stagg-Stockton, and we love that he’s got a nose for the end zone.
LOS BANOS’ DAVID WALKER (4 games-67 carries, 574 yards, 8.6-yard avg., 6 TDs): Came into the 2013 with high hopes, but there was little to deflect defenses from marshaling their forces to stop Walker. He stands up as he runs, but that’s something we assume will be fixed by next fall. He’s tall and lanky with a long stride, which makes him difficult to catch in the open field.
STAGG’S ERIC KRANH (47 carries, 498 yards, 10.6-yard avg., 6 TDs): It was tough for underclassmen to get too much time with the ball in their hands, due to Stagg’s gifted and explosive senior class. Kranh showed a glimpe of his ability on a handful of fine runs, and this fall we’ll see if he’s prepared to take on a featured role in the Delta Kings’ spread offense.
ST. MARY’S PARKER CASTON (28 carries, 312 yards, 11.1-yard avg., 4 TDs): The lack of a running game was the Rams’ downfall in 2013, as they suffered their first league loss in years and were bumped from the playoffs in the first round. Will it be Caston who steps into the void next year, or is there another runner in the program?
OAKDALE’S BROCK WHITING, MAX STEVENS and DARUS NELSON: The trio of underclassmen split carries much of the season, and they will give the Mustangs plenty of options in the fall. Whiting had 26 carries for 144 yards in the section quarterfinal loss to Sacramento, while Stevens had 15 carries for 91 yards in a win over Sierra and Nelson had back-to-back 3-TD games to end the regular season.
MILLENNIUM’S IZAIAH WILLIAMS (109 carries, 474 yards, 4.4-yard avg., 6 TDs): It’s always interesting to see what emerges from the CCAA, which has some of the smallest schools in the Section, but Williams bears watching if he can improve his quickness and spends the offseason in the weight room.
HILMAR’S BAILEY GOMES (103 carries, 496 yards, 4.8-yard avg., 4 TDs): His versatility played a key role in Hilmar’s 13-1 season, which included a trip to the Section Division final before losing to eventual state champion Centrsl Catholic. He was an adept receiver in 2013, but needs to become more of a big-play running threat out of the backfield in the spread offense. That average of 4.8 yards a run needs to top 6 and maybe 7 yards next year – considering how defenses are forced to spread to defend the field.
BUHACH COLONY’S JUSTIN STEFANI (76 carries, 539 yards, 7.1-yard avg., 6 TDs) & STEPHON EASTMAN (35, 223, 6.4, 2): Stefano’s not your typical BC back – he’s not going to win the sprint race, but the 5-foot-9, 210-pounder can be the power back that provides a balanced run philosophy. He had 14 carries for 196 yards and 2 TDs in the season opener, but his 14-carry, 74-yrd outing in a 10-0 win over Pitman showed his true strength to the program.
Eastman was the odd back out a year ago, but needs to step into a larger role for the Thunder in 2014. He’s a threat in kickoff returns – he brought one back 90 yards for a TD in a win over Whitney. Combined with Stefani and speedy Aundre Sherman, he could give BC a versatile, talented backfield.
MANTECA’S HECTOR SOTO (67 carries, 487 yards, 7.3-yard avg., 8 TDs): When the 2013 opened, the Buffaloes thought Soto would be one of their prime threats coming out of the backfield – then Black Hat Player of the Year Alex Laurel returned two punts and a kickoff for a TD, and had a long run for a fourth score in the opener. Soto can’t match Laurels speed or elusiveness, but he’s a steady threat who always seems to be plowing forward.
PACHECO’S MOFFAT TENENG (83 carries, 579 yards, 7-yard avg., 5 TDs) & KALAMA KOMOKU (injured in 2013): There won’t be a deeper backfield in The 209 than the Panthers’ next season, with Tenning joining power backs Frank Ginda (an All-Black Hat Football LB) and Kalama Komoku (868 yards, 9 TDs as sophomore). Komuko was supposed to be the big back in 2013, but he tore up his knee in the offseason and missed the entire season.
Teneng had a couple of big games in 2013 –16 carries, 150 yards & 2 TDs in a last-second loss to Escalon and 20-124-0 in a 21-14 loss to Patterson – but his longest run was 31 yards. The Panthers need more big plays from Teneng.
WATERFORD’S RYAN CHERRY (110 carries, 686 yards, 6.2-yard avg., 5 TDs): The Wildcats’ leading rusher, Cherry averaged 9 carries a game while splitting the load with senior Jesus Vega. He’ll be accompanied by Dante Berggren (35 carries, 10 yards a carry), but the 6-foot, 175-pound Cherry has the frame to carry the heavier load in 2014.
KIMBALLS RASHAAD COOPER (107 carries, 581 yards, 5.4-yard avg., 4 TDs): The Jaguars’ lose one of the region’s most underrated RBs with the graduation of Gaige Allen, a development that should thrust Rashaad Cooper into a prominent role. He had a 13-carry, 85-yard game in a 35-14 win over Oakdale – the Jags’ first-ever win over Oakdale.
Cooper averaged 12 carries and 65 yards a game, including a season-high 98 yards against Manteca. Just as impressive is that he had eight sacks to go with his 44 tackles. He also has a 3.36 GPA, after earning a 3.5 the first semester of this school year.
MERCED’S JABAR BYRD (60 carries, 624 yards, 10.4-yard avg., 6 TDs): This will be his second season alongside QB Tyrone Williams and in the no-huddle spread, Bryd should once again break big plays against defenses that are forced to cover sideline to sideline. With Williams expected to play a role in the run game this fall, the threat of two runners will also help Byrd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ABcedlyCJ8
The Bears went 5-0 in the Central California Conference last season, but fell to Jesuit-Carmichzl in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs. With Byrd and much of the offense returning, there’s an opportunity for the Bears to mae a deeper run into the postseason in 2014.
ENOCHS’ KENT McCOY (100 carries, 497 yards, 5-yard avg., 6 TDs): Miscast in the veer last fall – McCoy lacks the size to be an interior runner – all of his numbers should climb if the Eagles horizontally stretch their offense and force the defense to stretch with it. McCoy needs gaps large enough for him to shoot through, forcing larger defenders to pursue him. Too often last year, he was running into tackles and linebackers, who bunched the middle.
DELHI’S GARETT THOMAS (106 carries, 725 yards, 6.8-yard avg., 16 TDs): He technically a QB in Delhi’s compact-run-focused offense, but we like his running skills and everyone’s got love those 16 TDs. He needs to improve his completion percentage, from last year’s 44 percent to closer to 55 – he can settle for that figue, but needs to push the ball further downfield.
LODI’S CHANCE TRAMMELL (84 carries, 558 yards, 6.6-yard avg., 3 TDs): He only played seven games last fall, but averaged 80 yards a game. The three TDs were too low, however, given his 84 carries. He had a 24-carry, 224-yard game in a 34-27 win over Chavez. He only had one other game over 100 yards and only one other game with more than 13 carries. We were surprised to see he caught just four passes? http://www.hudl.com/athlete/o/857772/chance-trammell
ESCALON’S CHRISTIAN MAY (87 carries, 586 yards, 6.7-yard avg., 6 TDs): The fullback is traditionally the workhorse in the Cougars’ methodical Wing-T offense, but that’s going to change in 2014 – unless May is moved to that role. With Frankie Bavaro graduating, and May showing good running skills, the Cougars will need to et the ball into his hands more often. He’s also a threat downfield, and getting the ball away from the congestion created at the line of scrimmage will only enhance his effectiveness.
CALAVERAS’ CONNOR HAMILTON (124 carries, 853 yards, 69-yard avg., 10 TDs): The Redskins always seem to have a quality runner returning, and 2014 will be no different. With Black Hat Football Sierra Foothills Player of the Year Mike Seawell moving on, Hamilton’s workload will increase. He’s one of the reasons the Mother Lode League will be interesting next fall.
Another reason? Sonora drops from the ultra-competitive Division 3 Valley Oak League to the D4 MLL, and there are fears the Wildcats could dominate. Calaveras beat Sonora last year, though, setting up a 2014 revenge game.
CHAVEZ’S PRIEST JENNINGS (139 carries, 791 yards, 5.7-yard avg., 7 TDs): Provided a glimpse of what he’s capable of in a 34-27 loss to Lodi, with 30 carries for 169 yards and two TDs. Jennings ran for at least 73 yards in eight of his nine games, and he also caught 14 passes.
PACHECO’S FRANK GINDA (120 carries, 1,087 yards, 9.1-yard avg., 17 TDs): He had one of The 209’s elite games – 31 carries for 306 yards and 2 TDs in a 29-7 win over Central Valley- and was headed for a 1,300-yard season before breaking his hand in the final week. He might not equal last year’s numbers, but that’s because of the talent around him.
The Panthers expect to have a trio of talented RBs, but Ginda remains the best of that bunch. The upside is a balanced run game gives him time to rest, making Ginda a greater player on defense.
TRACY’S NATE JONES (113 carries, 1,174 yards, 10.4-yard avg., 19 TDs): The All-Black Hat Football RB also made CalHiSports’ All-State Underclass Team. He’s a contender for our 2014 Player of the Year based on his 2013 performance – 1,174 yards & 19 TDs on just 113 carries, 10.4 yards a run.
The only film you need to see is this: 12 carries, 166 yards and 3 TDs in a 41-39 win over Lincoln. If we hold a 2014 HS FB Fantasy Draft, Jones is the first RB we select – and we give him the ball 20 times a game. He’s a potential stat machine, just waiting for the opportunity to have a breakout season.
MODESTO’S ANTONIO PEREZ (158 carries, 1,132 yards, 7.2-yard avg., 12 TDs): The Panthers must rebuild their offense, which means defenses will likely be keying on Perez until other offensive threats materialize. He needs to increase his speed – Perez’s longest run was 43 yards – to exploit the gaps in the defense that are created when Modesto spreads the field.
MARIPOSA’S KAMA’RE BAILEY (149 carries, 1,082 yards, 7.3-yard avg., 16 TDs): It’s always a good sign when a junior RB returns with a veteran QB, and that will be Bailey’s scenario. He begins 2014 as the Southern League’s RB and holds the key as the Grizzlies tries to unseat kingpin Le Grand – which has crushed everyone standing in its path the last four seasons.
What would we like to see? More passes thrown Bailey’s direction, after he caught 16 for 247 yards and 3 TDs last season. Getting the ball in his hands, away from those big defensive linemen, would produce some big plays.