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Sports in Kansas: 25 Running Backs to Watch for 2015

Jace McDown of Columbus returns after 1,626 rushing yards for Columbus in 2014. (Carolyn Eddington)
By: Sports in Kansas - Chet Kuplen
Jul 30, 2015

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Several running backs return after having big seasons in 2014. Check out who to watch in 2015. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we will do this position by position and release a full list of players to watch in Kansas. Players are alphabetical by last name (not ranked). This list from Sports in Kansas is powered by Performance Spine and Sport in Pittsburg, offering full-body cryotheraphy.

Blake Beckett, Halstead Sr. (6-1 185)

Beckett had a breakout all-state season in 2014 with over 2,100 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns. Beckett averaged 10.5 yards per carry. He led the Dragons to a 10-3 record, combining with quarterback Eli McKee who had over 1,300 yards rushing. Beckett also had over 100 tackles on defense last season.

Jordan Birch, Andover Central Sr. (6-1 205)

It seems Birch has been offered by every regional FCS program this summer and there’s a reason why. Speed and explosiveness. Football isn’t even his best sport as he doubles as one of the best hurdlers in Kansas, where he won the 4A 110 meter hurdles over the last two seasons. Birch rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and added 18 touchdowns. He could project as an athlete at the next level at multiple positions. Andover Central has a lot coming back with Peyton Huslig (QB), Darraja Parnell (WR/DB) and Thomas Graham (LB) to make them a contender in 4A-I for 2015.

Tanner Burnett, Elkhart Sr. (6-2 230)

Burnett, who doubles as a defensive tackle, is a powerful runner out of the 2A ranks. He rushed for 1,713 yards and 17 touchdowns last year in 10 games. He also had 100 tackles from his defensive tackle position.

James Cosentino, Aquinas Sr. (5-9 170)

Cosentino only played in the first nine games for Aquinas last year, who ended up taking second in 5A. However, he rushed for at least 100 yards in all nine of those games. He was just as big of a factor in the return game with over 500 return yards. Cosentino had 1,296 rushing yards in those nine games. Aquinas, under second year head coach Randy Dreiling, is loaded in 2015. Duron Lowe, an immediate impact transfer from SM Northwest, will help carry the load with Cosentino in 2015.

Dawson Downing, Miege Sr. (6-0 205)

Downing had a huge junior campaign for the Stags, who captured the 4A-I state title in 2014. He rushed for 1,955 yards and 31 touchdowns, despite limited playing time in blowouts. Downing loses his all-state quarterback, Ryan Willis, who is at Kansas, but should be an even bigger part of offense in 2015. Downing is only 16 years old and should really only be a junior by age this season instead of senior.  He is also a very explosive track athlete with a discus throw over 160 feet.

Wyatt Edmisten, SM East Sr. (5-10 185)

SM East won its first ever state football title in 2014 and a big reason for that was the play of Edmisten in the backfield. As a junior, he tallied 1,523 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns for the Lancers. He will be relied on again to carry the load out of the flexbone rushing attack for 2015.

Dillon Engelland, Buhler Sr. (5-11 185)

Engelland will be one of the fastest players in Kansas for the 2015 season. He features 40-yard dash time reported in the low 4.4s. Buhler is known recently for having backs with big numbers and the first team AVCTL-III running back should produce big again in 2015 as he teams with Quarterback Jace Williams, who is one of the best overall athletes in Kansas. Also throw in that Jaden Abernathy (6-3 275) returns on the offensive line after earning all-state last season.  Crusaders won their first ever title two years ago, can they bring home a second in three years?

Riley England, Osawatomie Sr. (6-0 205)

England should once again be one of the better small class backs in Kansas for 2015. He rushed for 2,005 yards as a sophomore with 21 touchdowns, while adding over 1,800 more with 21 touchdowns as a junior in 2014.

William Evans, Blue Valley Jr. (5-11 185)

Evans, who plays in one of the best leagues (EKL) in Kansas, put up over 1,000 yards as a sophomore with 16 touchdowns. He is also a threat in the return game and has shown the ability to take it to the house. BV is always a contender and if they are in 2015, a big reason will be Evans. He will form one of the better backfield in 6A along with A.J Totta (800+ rushing), who is one of the strongest players in Kansas

Cooper Griffith, Scott City Sr. (6-1 215)

Griffith is every bit as good on offense as he is on defense. As a junior in 2014, he rushed for a team-leading 1,206 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Beavers. His backfield partner, Wyatt Kropp, who could have also made this list returns as well after rushing for 1,089 and 17 touchdowns in 2014. Griffith really shined on defense where he had 164 tackles from his linebacker spot. Scott should once again be a contender on the 3A west.

Hunter Hazlick, Hoisington Jr. (5-11 180)

Hazlick was one of the top small class sophomores in 2014 as he rushed for 1,381 yards and 31 touchdowns for the Cardinals. Seven of his games went for over 100+ yards. He also tallied 52 tackles and five sacks from his outside linebacker position.

Joel Katzer, Baldwin Sr. (6-0 190)

Katzer rushed for over 1,800 yards last year and 12 touchdowns in the backfield for the Bulldogs. He earned first-team all-league honors in the very loaded Frontier League. Gone is his main blocker, Christian Gaylord, to Nebraska, but Katzer will still be a player to watch for in 4A-I this season.

Jared Koster, Garden City Sr. (5-10 160)

Koster was on a struggling team in 2014, but it didn’t stop him from producing over 1,000 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He also had over 700 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. He should be one of main backs to watch for in the WAC this season after being the only junior running back to earn first team honors in 2014.

Duron Lowe, Aquinas Sr (5-11 190)

Lowe, who rushed for over 1,000 combined yards over the last two seasons for nearby Shawnee Mission Northwest, will be an immediate impact player for Aquinas in their flex-bone rushing attack. James Cosentino, who also made the list, with quarterback Karter Oderman, and Lowe form one of the better rushing backfield in Kansas. Don’t be surprised if Aquinas wins a title in 5A this season.

Mike McCoy, Topeka Sr. (6-2 215)

McCoy, a highly recruited running back out of Topeka, should have another big season in 2015. Gone is Alec Beatty, who was a two-time all-state QB, but he returns two big time offensive lineman in Teven Jenkins (6-6 305) and Dakota Williams (6-2 275). McCoy rushed for over 1,100 yards and had 23 touchdowns as a junior and will be counted on even more in 2015. Look for the first team All-Centenial League running back to have a huge season.

Jace McDown, Columbus Sr. (6-0 220)

McDown rushed for 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns last season for the 4A-II state runner-up. Columbus had never played for a title game. McDown, who is a four year starter at LB, also enters senior year with 276 tackles. Although he was a state wrestling champion as a sophomore, he no longer wrestles as his attention is focused on football at the next level. McDown, who should be the favorite this year to win 4A powerlifting, features a bench press of 340 pounds and squats 500.

Zac Melius, Wakfield Sr.

Melius rushed for over 1,500 yards and had 33 touchdowns in the 8-man ranks in 2014. He had one game last season in which he rushed for over 300 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. He also had 45 stops on defense.  He is also one of the top sprinters in the lower classes of Kansas. The Bombers finished 7-3 last season. It may be rare for an 8-man player to be listed in the top 25 players to watch, but this kid puts up numbers that almost seem made up.

Rodney Murphy, Heights Sr. (6-1 185)

Murphy is a big bodied running back that looks to take over more of the carry for Heights in 2015. He features sub 4.6 speed and earned second team GWAL league honors in 2014. He is the lone returning running back in the city league that earned first or second team honors.

Alexander Norris, Kapaun Sr. (5-9 185)

Norris rushed for over 800 yards last year in the city league. All-State quarterback candidate Brock Monty also returns for the Crusaders, forming one of the better backfields in Wichita for 2015.

Kade Rembsberg, Newton Jr. (5-11 170)

Remsberg gets on the list because he is the fastest player in Kansas, which could make him very dangerous to defend this fall. He was clocked sub 4.4 in the forty yard dash this summer and is a state champion in the 5A 100 and 200 meter dashes. He also had a nice season at running back in 2014, rushing for over 500 yards as a sophomore in 2014. He should be a breakout football player for 2015 as a junior.

Dalton Peters, Salina Central Sr. (5-9 175)

Peters, who took second in wrestling at 5A 170 pounds, had a huge year for the Mustangs in 2014 as he rushed for over 1,200 yards. Peters is a weight room warrior, benching over 320 pounds and just weighing around 170-175 depending on what season he’s in. He also has a squat of 450 and a vertical jump of 34.5 inches.

Sterling Owens, KC Piper Sr. (5-4 165)

Although he stands only 5-foot-4, it didn’t stop him in 2014 as he racked up over 1,000 yards rushing for the Pirates. Owens also features nice speed as he runs a leg on his schools 4x100, which qualified for state. He showed his speed by averaging 9.2 yards per carry in 2014. Try tackling this bowling ball in 2015.

Ian Rudzik, Ulysses Sr. (6-2 225)

Rudzik has been one of the better small school backs in Kansas over the past three football seasons. Starting since his freshmen season, he has racked up 5,235 rushing yards and 67 touchdowns. He projects as a LB at the next level and has a Wyoming offer. Perhaps the most explosive player in this bunch, he has a shot put throw of over 57 feet as the 4A state champion. He also features 11.0 speed in the 100 meter dash. Some comparisons have been made to former Smith Center and KSU great Mark Simoneau.

J.D. Woods, Lawrence Sr. (5-7 175)

His size isn’t impressive, but don’t let that fool you as he is one of Kansas’ best. He may be the closest thing to Darren Sproles we have seen in the Sunflower League in quite some time. He led, arguably the best league in Kansas, in rushing last year with over 1,600 yards. He is explosive, featuring 4.40 forty yard dash speed, 10.73 speed in the 100 meters, 275 bench and a 515 squat. Lawrence has a cast of players including Price Morgan and Amani Bledsoe that make them a contender in 6A this season. It has been 20 years since the city of Lawrence has brought home a football title, could they do it in 2015?

Garrett Xanders, Derby Sr. (5-10 165)

Xanders, who doubles as a state wrestling champion, where he won at 152 pounds in 6A last season, is primed for a big senior season whether he is at receiver or running back. At Derby, he has had limited carries due to talented all-state running backs Curtis Whitten and Tyler West over the past two seasons. Xanders had over 800 yards rushing last year and over 300 yards receiving. Does Derby have enough to win their second state title in three years?

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