South Mississippi’s quarterback class heading into the 2017 season may require some athletes to step up. The same can’t exactly be said for the Coast’s group of running backs. Yes, seven of the Coast’s 10 leading rushers from a year ago graduated, but the region is still absolutely loaded with playmakers in the backfield.
Here are a few running backs to keep in mind heading into the 2017 season:
2016 rushing stats: 1,096 yards, 8 TDs 11.1 average/carry
The breakdown: Josh Littles was one of the more underrated running backs in the state a year ago, rushing for 2,399 yards and 25 scores. His understudy, if you could call him that, was Shaun Anderson. Although he carried the ball almost 200 fewer times than Littles, Anderson still collected 1,096 yards and eight touchdowns and his 11.1 average from a year ago easily tops this list. Like Littles, Anderson doesn’t need to dance a lot to find daylight — although he did show that ability from time to time. Once he gets the ball, Anderson is good at quickly to putting his foot in the ground and streaking up field. Anderson also helped the Tide quite a bit defensively last year, leading the team in interceptions (4) and passes defended (13).
2016 rushing stats: 1,746 yards, 21 TDs, 8.9 average/carry
The breakdown: A year ago the Hornets used a two-headed rushing monster of Austin Bolton and Jesse Pernell to blitz through and around opponents. Pernell has graduated, but Poplarville has plenty of faith in Bolton. At 5-foot-7, Bolton maybe doesn’t have elite speed (his reported 4.78-second 40-yard dash time ain’t bad, of course), but what really stands out is his vision and elusive running ability. The rising senior, who holds an offer from Pearl River Community College, also proved to be a sneaky option out of the backfield for quarterback Antonio Barnes, catching eight passes for 199 yards and three scores. The big question is can Bolton shoulder the bulk of the load in 2017 after he was just about a 50-50 partner with Pernell the last couple of years. Reigning Sun Herald Coach of the Year Jay Beech will undoubtedly find a couple players to help lessen work load, but if Poplarville makes a second straight run to state you can bet it’s because Bolton is leading the charge.
School: East Central
2016 rushing stats: 3,317 yards, 41 TDs, 9.1 average/carry
The breakdown: Where to begin when it comes to Tony Brown? Brown’s HUDL highlight reel is 17 minutes long — and justifiably so after Hornet finished fourth nationally with 3,317 yards rushing. Yes, Brown carried the rock around 400 times a game, but he’s a strong back for 5-foot-9 — just watch the crazy video of Brown cleaning 315 pounds at SunHerald.com. The 4A powerlifting runner up in the 181-pound weight class this spring, Brown has shown the ability to run around defenders, or straight move the pile. As a junior Brown, who reports a 4.49-second 40, never rushed fewer than 11 times and eclipsed 121 yards and two touchdowns in all 13 games. Simply remarkable. If Brown, who holds a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College offer, is to show improvement heading into ’17, however, he’ll need to firm up his grip on the football. If he can do that, this season should be another wild one for ECHS.
2016 rushing stats: 1,043 yards, 10 TDs, 6.8 average/carry
The breakdown: Where Micah Booker and Kahlil McCray perhaps supplied most of the thunder in Eric Collins’ three-headed backfield last season, Ja’Quavis Foster certainly add the lightning. The Warriors probably ran the ball more than any other school on the Coast, bruising teams into submission with Booker and McCray before Foster would break a big run. Often facing a box full of defenders as the Warriors worked out of bunched offensive formations Foster did a good job of getting the most out of each carry. Even in the three-way timeshare, Foster eclipsed 100 yards six times as a junior and scored a touchdown in eight different contests. With the first two backs gone, Collins will add more backs to the mix, but expect Foster to lead the Warriors’ ground attack.
School: Harrison Central
2016 rushing stats: 1,775 yards, 21 TDs, 8.0 average/carry
The breakdown: Keon Moore might be the most fun of all his running back counterparts. At 5-foot-11, 195-pounds, Moore is a strong between-the-tackles back who can also hit the home run at any moment. He showed that ability last year against Ocean Springs when he rushed for 221 yards, caught two touchdown passes for 152 yards and finished with six total TDs. One of his more memorable runs of the year also came against OSHS. Near mid-field, Moore looked like he was hemmed in at the line, only to spin off of a blocker and squirt out the left side for a long touchdown. Moore has been a target on the recruiting trail with offers from Texas-San Antonio, Jackson State and Louisiana (Lafayette). With the graduation of QB Tavis Williams, Moore will likely be asked to do more this season, a challenge the hard worker is undoubtedly up for.
But wait, there’s more
Here are a few more RBs to remember: St. Martin junior Ham Mcgee 821 yards, 6 TDs, 7.5 average/carry; Pearl River Central senior Louis Reece 671 yards, 7 TDs, 5.0 average/carry; Stone senior Kentrell McCray 500 yards, 8 TDs, 9.4 average/carry; Biloxi junior Kenyatta Harrell 351 yards, 3 TDs, 5.5 average/carry; Pass Christian junior Tionne Frost 429 yards, 5 TDs, 6.7 average/carry.