CIK Season Preview: Running Backs to Watch
WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) -
Back for another year, Catch It Kansas again continues with its 2020 Top Football Players at each position. The RB group is especially deep – probably the deepest of any position group. Running back features two of the state’s top-five seniors, along with a host of QB/RB returners, and a large group of eight-man backs. Players, including two-way standouts, are listed at just one position in CIK’s Positional Lists.
1. Tank Young, St. Thomas Aquinas – The state’s current comparison to Darren Sproles, Tank Young is the state’s most recognizable player. Young, already Aquinas’ single season rushing record holder, is ranked as Kansas’ No. 5 recruit for the Class of 2021, according to 247 Sports. The 5-foot-6 Young has an Iowa State offer. He cleared 2,000 yards as a sophomore and delivered 1,867 rushing yards last season. Aquinas finished No. 2 in Class 5A at 44.5 points per game; Wichita Northwest led at 51.5.
2. Arland Bruce IV, Olathe North – Bruce, an Iowa commit and the Simone Award winner as the best player in the K.C. Metro area, led Olathe North to a 10-3 mark and Class 6A state runner-up. Bruce is rated as the No. 4 player in Kansas for the Class of 2021, according to 247. Bruce has 371 carries for 2,479 yards and 43 touchdowns. Bruce is likely to break Olathe North’s all-time rushing record, a school that has produced Sproles and Isaiah Simmons, among others. ON was fifth in 6A at 40.5 points per contest. Bruce has also played some quarterback in the past, though Caleb Nelson, who graduated and signed with Baker last year, handled most of North’s passing duties last fall.
3. John Randle Jr., Wichita Heights/Joshua Sanders, Maize – Heights went 3-6 in ’19, though finished No. 6 in Class 5A scoring offense with 33.7 points per game – sandwiched between state champion Mill Valley and City League rival Bishop Carroll. Heights rushed for 323 yards a game. All of Heights’ rushing yards came from non-seniors. The City League is expected to have traditional leaders Wichita Northwest and Bishop Carroll, though W. East and W. Heights could take steps to change the pecking order with high-level, Division I talent back.
Randle, with Division I talent with multiple family members, delivered 67 carries for 708 yards and eight scores. Randle has posted 4.38 in the 40, and has offers from TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas State.
His now-former teammate, Sanders rushed 159 times for 1,356 yards for 17 scores as a junior. He transferred to Maize for his senior season to join the 5A state semifinalist from 2019.
4. Tyler Bowden, Lawrence Free State – Free State finished 8-2 and delivered 37.5 points per game, which ranked eighth in 32-team Class 6A. Bowden has set several school records in the long history of great FS backs. He delivered 1,859 rushing yards for the Firebirds.
5. Julius Bolden, Wichita Northwest – Bolden has offers from South Dakota State and Western Michigan, among others. Northwest led 5A in scoring offense again with 51.5 points per game and is two-state state runner-up. Bolden cleared 1,500 rushing yards and delivered 29 scores. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Bolden has posted 4.41 laser time in the 40-yard dash.
6. Shadyron Blanka, St. Francis – Blanka and Canton-Galva junior wide receiver Tyson Struber are arguably eight-man’s top returning players. Blanka, in St. Francis’ single wing, had 161 carries for 1,694 yards and 24 scores. He also delivered 98 tackles, 17 for loss. SF returns all but two starters from a squad that went 12-1 and earned Eight-Man, Division I runner-up. Blanka has offers from Highland and NAIA Graceland. The Indians are likely the preseason favorite in Eight-Man, Division II.
7. Brogan Myers, Cedar Vale-Dexter – Despite injuries both seasons, Myers has cleared 1,100 rushing yards each of the last two falls. CV-D finished 7-2, the best record since the school started the co-operative agreement. Myers, a senior has averaged more than 10 yards a rush both seasons.
8. Aiden Rudolph, Clifton-Clyde – Rudolph, like Blanka, is a top single wing back. He rushed for 1,550 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior. C-C has just six losses in the last four years and is 9-1 in each of the past two. The Eagles are expected to have an experienced line.
9. Thad Metcalfe, Perry-Lecompton – Perry-Lecompton had a surprising run to the 3A title game and returns a 2,000-yard passer in William Welch and a 1,000-yard rusher with Thad Metcalfe. Perry-Lecompton was ninth in 3A in scoring offense at 31.1 points a game. Metcalfe has 244 carries for 1,364 yards and 14 scores.
10. Anthony Favrow, Olathe West – Like many teams on this list, Olathe West has a number of offensive returners. The Owls went 6-4 and bring back quarterback Alex Birge and all but seven rushing yards. Favrow delivered 179 carries for 1,324 yards and 16 scores as a sophomore.
11. Colby Stull, La Crosse – La Crosse, often the state’s smallest 11-man school, drops down to eight-man for the first time this year and is expected to be a viable contender in Eight-Man, Division I, District 6. La Crosse finished 5-4 last season, though lost its final four contests. Stull delivered a huge sophomore year with 151 carries for 1,322 yards and 16 TDs. As a freshman, he had 123 rushes for 532 yards and three TDs. La Crosse averaged 26.9 points per game, which ranked No. 14 out of 31 teams in Class 1A.
12. Jared Baxa/Kaleb Talkington, Republic County – Republic County bumped to Class 2A and goes way east in district play this fall with Atchison schools and defending state champion Nemaha Central. RC lost its first seven, then delivered a pair of big wins and finished 2-8 and averaged 25 points a game. All but 27 rushing yards return. Both Baxa and Talkington are seniors. Baxa delivered 183 carries for 1,332 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Talkington had 95 carries for 539 yards and six scores.
13. Brayden Collins, Canton-Galva – Sometimes overshadowed media-wise by his teammates, including wide receiver Tyson Struber, Collins is an exceptional running back. He rushed 171 times for 1,338 yards and helped C-G post a 13-0 mark and win the Eight-Man, Division I title. Collins helped C-G bounce back from a 36-0 hole in the state title and win 66-36. In the final, Collins rushed 18 times for 99 yards and two scores.
14. Jayvon Pruitt, Victoria – Victoria finished 7-3 and 6-3 the last two years and has posted a winning season every year from ’00-19, including four state titles and a runner-up. This year, longtime coach Doug Oberle returns junior quarterback Grant Schoenrock and senior running back Jayvon Pruitt. Schoenrock started at the end of his freshman season and all last year. Pruitt will be a three-year starter at linebacker and two years at running back.
He delivered 1,071 total yards and 22 offensive touchdowns. Pruitt has significantly improved his strength and has picked up a recent offer from Bethel. Victoria does have to replace two key linemen in Kirk Huser and Josh Schulte, but the Knights – and Pruitt – should be among Eight-Man, Division II’s best.
15. La’James White, KC Piper – White rushed 202 times for 1,241 yards and nine scores for the Pirates. Piper, which used three quarterbacks for 13/6 TD/INT ratio, returns all its signal callers and all but eight rushing yards. White had a remarkable 66 percent of his team’s carries. He is also among the state’s top return specialists and delivered 1,969 all-purpose yards. He returned four kicks for scores, three on kickoffs. Eight of the top-nine tacklers return, led by senior Branden Martin. He has led Kansas in tackles the last two years and delivered 169 last fall.
16. Chase Jans, Blue Valley – Jans, a strong baseball player, returned to football last year and helped perennial power Blue Valley bounce back from a rare 4-5 season to post an 8-4 record and reach the 6A semifinals. Jans rushed 162 times for 1,064 yards and 10 scores. He and quarterback Jake Wolff (Akron offer) headline an experienced Blue Valley team that returns all of its passing yards, 99 percent of its rushing yards and 79 percent of its receptions.
17. Bryant Banks, SE of Saline – Banks is part of a bevy of returners for Southeast of Saline, which is 8-2 and 7-3 the last two seasons. Banks and senior quarterback Jaxson Gebhardt form one of Kansas’ best and most experienced QB/RB combinations. SES moves from Class 2A to 3A. SES averaged 35.2 points per game, eighth-best in 2A. Banks rushed 174 times for 969 yards and 21 scores.
18. Trevor Erickson, Chapman/ Logan Mullin, Clay Center – The North Central Kansas League has two key backs with Erickson and Mullin. Chapman finished 2-7 and ran the ball 82 percent of the time. Erickson, a speedster with 4.55 speed in the 40-yard dash, plays in the triple option.
He passed for 711 yards but is known for his running ability as a quarterback, which is one reason why Bethel College (a triple option team) offered him. Erickson led with 142 carries for 873 yards and nine scores. As well, junior Eli Riegel is back after 150 carries for 686 yards and five TDs in coach Kurt Webster’s physical attack. Clay Center finished 3-6, though senior Logan Mullin had 169 carries for 907 yards and nine scores.
19. Quin Whitteneaur, Mill Valley – The defending 5A state champion have another elite QB/RB duo with Cooper Marsh and senior Quin Whittenauer, who rushed 149 times for 832 yards and nine scores. Marsh had 924 rushing and 2,018 passing and was listed high on CIK’s Top QB list.
20. Hunter Morris/Holt Hanzlick/Cade Mason, Hoisington – Hoisington has churned out incredible running backs in recent seasons with Hunter Hanzlick, Sean Urban, Cam Davis, and then Wyatt Pedigo the last two years. Morris and Mason are both seniors. Morris had 42 carries for 422 yards and five TDs, and Mason delivered 35 carries for 344 yards and four TDs. Hanzlick was hurt last season, though Hoisington quarterback Mason Haxton expected a big year from Hanzlick this fall.
21. Tate Seabolt, Cimarron/ Servando Gonzalez, Lakin – The two Hi-Plains League rivals both posted strong seasons last year. Cimarron has now switched to the GWAC after a 9-1 mark. Seabolt rushed 111 times for 928 yards and 15 scores as a junior. In his sophomore year, Seabolt collected 211 carries for 1,531 yards and 17 scores.
His brother, Josh, is a preseason All-American at Bethel. Cimarron fullback Hunter Renick has multiple offers and expects to move to tight end this fall. Lakin took significant graduation losses from an 8-2 squad, including lineman Hadley Panzer, now at Kansas State, and RBs Kayden Christiansen and William Gilleland.
However, Lakin coach Chris Bamberger has consistently churned out winning seasons with Ness City (including a state title) and Lakin. Junior Servando Gonzalez, who passed for 441 yards, could be Lakin’s top rusher after 54 carries for 471 yards and five scores. Gonzalez is Lakin’s only returner with more than 166 rushing yards.
22. Konnor Tannahill/Canon Karn, Holton – Holton bounced back from the team’s first losing season since 1996 and won a surprising Class 3A, District 4 title. Tannahill led with 157 carries for 799 yards and 11 scores, and Karn was second with 93 carries for 716 yards and eight TDs. Karn and Tannahill were 1-2 in tackles for longtime coach Brooks Barta.
23. Korben Clawson, Meade – Meade, like its longtime rival La Crosse, drops down to eight-man football for the first time and will play in District 7 with powers Hodgeman County and Wichita County. Clawson, a junior, has 152 carries for 754 yards and seven scores.
24. Hunter Trail, Bishop Carroll – QB Aiden Niedens and RB Hunter Trail are seniors and one of the state’s top duos. BC is 8-3 in each of the last two years. Trail cleared 770 rushing yards. The Golden Eagles were seventh in 5A with 31.8 points per game. Carroll was fourth in 5A in scoring defense at 13.7 points allowed.
25. Nate Hendrich, Smith Center – Last year, Nate Hendrich filled in for Aaron Moss, who was out for the season with injury. Smith Center has finished as state champion, state champion and state runner-up the last three years. Senior lineman Charlie Timmons, hurt some of ’19, will be a four-year starter. SC was seventh in 1A with 36.3 points a contest. Smith Center rushed for 339 yards a game, including 158 carries for 696 yards and 10 scores. He is the top returning back for the Redmen.
26. Brennan Lowe/Brent Escareno, Eureka – Lowe and Escareno, both seniors, helped Eureka win the Class 3-2-1A wrestling title two seasons ago, the first team athletic championship in any sport in Tornado history. Last season, they led Eureka to a 6-4 mark and a District 5 title.
It marked Eureka’s first district title in at least 17 years. In a 33-14 district-clinching win versus Belle Plaine, Lowe scored four touchdowns and tallied a TD in all three phases. Lowe finished with 93 carries for 682 yards, while Escareno was 64 carries for 567 yards.
27. Marion Ponds, Valley Center – Valley Center struggled to 2-7, though returns every player who had a positive rushing yard in ’19. Ponds, a senior, played in seven games and delivered 173 carries for 662 yards and five scores.
28. Jake Yungeberg, Valley Heights/Devon Feldkamp, Centralia – The Twin Valley League features a pair of top 1A teams. Centralia is the defending 1A champion, and VH has won seven games in three of the last four seasons. VH runs the triple option, and Centralia the single wing.
Last year, Centralia was third in 1A with 40.3 points per game, VH fourth at 39. Feldkamp cleared 1,100 rushing yards. Both teams are in District 2 with Jackson Heights; the trio has battled through the same district in the last several years.
29. Roy Moroni, Hays High/Josh Janas, Garden City/Alden Knedler, Dodge City – The Western Athletic Conference has three standout running backs return. Moroni, a junior, cleared 350 rushing yards as a sophomore and posted 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. HHS has multiple Division I players. Janas, an all-state wrestler, returned to football last fall. Janas rushed for 1,057 rushing yards. Knedler had more than 690 rushing yards as a sophomore.
30. Gabe Martin, Columbus – Columbus took a big turnaround to 8-2 and averaged 27.8 points per contest. As a sophomore, Martin rushed 89 times for 548 yards and four TDs. The Titans were 1-8 two years ago.
31. Russell Wilkey, Junction City – Junction City finished 8-3 and averaged 39.9 points per game, sixth-best in 6A. JC doubled its win total from two years ago, and returns its standout QB/RB with Andrew Khoury and Russell Wilkey for longtime coach Randall Zimmerman. Both will be seniors.
32. Kyle Werner, Plainville – As a freshman, Werner played well in spot duty when Jared Casey (KU signing) was hurt. Plainville has made at least the final four in the last four years. Werner delivered 50 carries for 394 yards and three TDs.
33. Sam Elliott, Buhler – As expected, Buhler took a jump from 5-5 when it had zero returning starters to 8-3 last fall. The Crusaders were No. 9 in 4A with 27.4 points per contest. Elliott also won the Class 4A 152-pound wrestling champion as a sophomore last winter. Elliott was honorable mention all-state by multiple media outlets.
34. Jesse Gardner, Leoti-Wichita County – Wichita County went 10-2 and advanced to the state semifinals in Eight-Man, Division I, which tied the best postseason showing in school history. WC is 3-6, 6-3 and 10-2 the last three years, the past two with coach Brant Douglas, who has quickly turned around the program. WC returns a bulk of its talent, including Gardner. He has rushed for 656 and 933 yards the last two seasons, and accounted for 24 offensive scores.
35. Logan Thille, Otis-Bison/ Trace Tasset, Spearville/Scott Price, Bucklin – There’s a bevy of other top eight-man backs, primarily for teams that did not factor in last year’s playoff run. Thille, one of the biggest eight-man surprises for the 5-4 Cougars, played in just eight games, though rushed 86 times for 867 yards (10.1 ypc) and 14 scores. He and QB Kaden Foust are both back as juniors.
Thille exploded with 233 yards in a key Week 2 win versus Bucklin. Spearville (5-5) is again running the single wing, and Trace Tasset averaged 11.4 yards per carry with 75 rushes for 858 yards and 16 scores. Bucklin (4-5) has its top-three backs return, led by 110 carries for 953 yards and 13 scores from junior Scott Price. He has generated some college interest.
Other 8-man Backs: St. John’s-Tipton’s Brayden Perez (829 yards), Osborne’s Mason Schurr (817 – expected to have a breakout year), South Gray’s Aaron Skidmore (817), Quinter’s Tucker Gillespie (797), Stafford’s Tai Hildebrand (775), Logan-Palco’s Josh Uhland (722); Shayden Sull, Hartford
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