By Eduardo A. Encina and Joey Knight
As the 2009 prep football season approaches, the Times will break down each position in the county. Today we take a look at running back.
Top returning tailbacks
1. James Wilder Jr., Plant: Wilder never will have county-leading numbers, but only because Plant still likes to pass and he doubles as a ferociously fleet speed rusher. Just go on YouTube to see his spectacular runs from last season.
2. Cary White, Sickles: We’re not totally sure if the county’s top returning rusher (1,594 yards, 13 TDs) will match his 2009 numbers, but only because tailback/receiver Brieann Dollard is there to complement him.
3. Matt Jones, Armwood: After Jones’ breakout effort in the 2009 spring jamboree, coach Sean Callahan said the chiseled Division I-A recruit had a chance to be the Hawks’ best player ever. Not sure anyone can fulfill that hype, and frankly, Jones hasn’t yet. But his physical upside is undeniable.
4. Dazmond Patterson, Plant City: One of the reasons for the Raiders’ turnaround last year. Patterson ran for 1,181 yards and eight scores. He’s only a junior, so his best years are ahead of him.
5. Nelson Agholor, Berkeley Prep: The best local back no one has seen already has offers from USC and Florida. Last season, Agholor, listed as a receiver, ran for 970 yards and 15 TDs. In the Bucs’ four-quarter spring game, he totaled 176 more.
6. Conner Powers, Newsome: This wrecking ball of a runner missed five games last year due to injury, but ran for 1,164 as a sophomore. If he can remain healthy, he can easily duplicate that in the Wolves’ run-first scheme.
7. Cludner Lacount, Tampa Bay Tech: He shared carries with Miami recruit Maurice Hagens last year, but still scored seven touchdowns on only 50 carries. Now the load is Lacount’s to carry.
Top returning fullbacks
1. Hunter Joyer, Tampa Catholic: Next year, he will be a fullback at Florida. This year, Bob Henriquez will depend on Joyer as his main offensive weapon.
2. Jamie Knott, Hillsborough: Knott has done a lot of the grind work for the likes of Lindsey Lamar and Rodney Johnson. This year he might pick up some of the ball-carrying load.
3. Keller Powers, Newsome: Equally as gritty as his brother, Powers is a big part of the offense as both a runner and blocker.
4. Ladarius Moye, Jefferson: Moye made his touches count in 2009, scoring 13 times (once every five carries).
5. Keith Lewis, Freedom: You try tackling this two-way brute, who likely will sign a Division I-A scholarship as an outside linebacker/safety.
Five to keep an eye on
1. Miles Bennett, Jesuit: A Class 2A state medalist in the 200-meter dash, Bennett is a thoroughbred in the making. He will be counted upon to step into the shoes of Robby Garcia, who ran for 929 yards last year. Having Anthony Harrell with him in the backfield won’t hurt.
2. Demetrius Russell, Jefferson: The J-boys are known to pass first, but during the Dragons’ run to the Class 3A state semifinals, he had many key runs to keep drives alive
3. Jon Mahan, Wharton: Last season at Wesley Chapel, this slightly undersized workhorse ran for 1,100 yards.
4. Darius Lee, Brandon: The Eagles, who collected more than 200 rushing yards in one half in May’s jamboree, are going to run — a lot. Look for Lee to improve on the team-best 526 yards he ran for in 2009.
5. Brandon Holloway, Alonso: With new coach Lee Meitzler ditching Alonso’s spread-happy offense for more I-formation looks, Holloway — the school record holder in the 100-meter dash — could break out.
Biggest backfield questions
1. Who will carry the ball at Hillsborough? For years, the Terriers have been able to lean on a feature running back. They enter fall practice with few proven ball carriers — and no returning quarterback.
2. Will the pro-I formation work right away at Alonso, especially with such a green offensive line?
3. After losing three of its top five rushers, can East Bay effectively replenish its wishbone attack?
Other stories in this series: