By Kevin Askeland
Against No. 1-ranked USC Sept. 25, Jacquizz Rodgers showed the rest of the nation what the entire state of Texas already knew – he’s a pretty exciting running back.
Rodgers, a true freshman, rushed for 186 yards to lead Oregon State to an upset win over the mighty Trojans. Not highly recruited out of high school because of his size, Rodgers ranks as one of the all-time great high school running backs in state history after setting the state record last season with 136 career touchdowns and leading Lamar Consolidated to a 4A state championship.
So in honor or Rodgers’ performance, we will take a look at the top all-time high school running backs in Texas history. There are a few criteria, however. While there is no point system or formula for determining the top runner, the player’s overall body of work will be examined with emphasis on high school performance. However, only players who played at least a season in the NFL will be eligible for the list. Sorry Robert Strait (8,411 yards in high school), Wes Danaher (8,855 yards) and Buddy Hanson (8,143 yards).
Here’s our top 10 high school running backs from the Longhorn State.
10. Rodney Thomas, Groveton, 1991
Thomas ranks as one of the all-time leading rushers in Texas and national history. He gained 3,701 yards his senior year at Groveton and his 8,441 career rushing yards rank third in Texas history. He also had 115 touchdowns and became the first Texas player to rush for over 100 yards in all 16 games during one season. At Texas A&M, Thomas had 45 career touchdowns and over 3,000 career yards. He had a seven-year NFL career, mostly with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. He ran for 1,973 yards rushing in his NFL career.
9. Adrian Peterson, Palestine
Peterson has excelled at all three levels – high school, college and NFL – but is still in the early stages of his NFL career, otherwise he would likely rank higher. In high school, Peterson rushed for 2,051 yards as a junior and 2,960 yards as a senior with 32 touchdowns. He earned the Ken Hall Trophy as the nation's top high school player. In college at Oklahoma, Peterson set the freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards rushing. He was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Injuries plagued Peterson his final two seasons, but he finished his college career with 4,046 yards. In his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, Petersen set the NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 296 and was the Rookie of the Year with 1,341 yards.
8. Cedric Benson, Robert E. Lee, 2001
On just high school honors alone, Benson would be near the top of this list. He led Midland Lee to three-straight 5A state titles and concluded his career as the state’s fourth all-time leading rusher with 8,423 yards, including 3,526 in 1999. His total is the most in Texas 5A history. Benson is the sixth all-time leading rusher in NCAA history after finishing his career at Texas with 5,540 yards. He won the Doak Walker Award his senior year, recognizing him as the nation’s top college running back. Benson has had a checkered NFL career with just 1,593 yards rushing. He was let go by the Chicago Bears early in the 2008 season and is currently a member of the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.
7. LaDainian Tomlinson, University, Waco, 1997
Tomlinson got a late start as a running back as he did not play the position until his senior year at University High School in Waco. He had a fantastic senior season, though, rushing for 2,554 yards and 39 touchdowns and earning Super CenTex Player of the Year honors. Not highly recruited out of high school, Tomlinson played college ball at Texas Christian University, where he led the NCAA in rushing as a junior with 1,850 yards and again as a senior with 2,158 yards. He was fourth in the Heisman voting and finished his career with 5,263 yards rushing. Tomlinson has become one of the all-time great running backs in NFL history. He has already been all-pro four times, setting NFL single season scoring (186 points) and touchdown (31 TDs) records. He has 10,650 career rushing yards and 111 touchdowns entering the 2008 season.
6. Billy Sims, Hooks, 1975
Although he was born in St. Louis, Billy Sims moved to Hooks, Texas at an early age and became a high school legend. He ran for 7,738 yards in his career, which featured a high school record 38 straight games with over 100 yards rushing. He ran for 3,080 yards as a senior with 38 touchdowns. He scored 85 TDs in his high school career. Sims led the nation in rushing his junior year at Oklahoma with 1,896 yards and he won the Heisman Trophy. He was a runner-up the following year to Charles White of USC. Sims finished his career at Oklahoma with 3,813 yards. Sims was the first overall pick in the 1980 draft by the Detroit Lions and was rookie of the year. He made the Pro Bowl three times and had 5,106 career rushing yards before injuries brought an early end to his career.
5. Doak Walker, Highland Park, 1944
Walker ranks as one of the greatest running backs in college football history. A three-time All-American at Southern Methodist, Walker won the Heisman trophy in 1948 and he won the Maxwell Award in 1947 as a sophomore. He scored 303 points in college and had 3,862 yards of total offense. In the NFL, Walker played just six seasons for the Detroit Lions, but won two NFL titles, was named All-Pro four times and played in five Pro Bowls. Walker is in the NCAA and NFL Hall of Fame. In high school, Walker teamed with future Lion teammate and NFL Hall of Famer Bobby Layne at Highland Park High School near Dallas. Ironically, Highland Park reached the state finals in 1944 and 1945 – the two years following Walker’s graduation from high school. Doak Walker’s legacy lives on as his name is associated with the award given to the top college running back each year. LaDainian Tomlinson and Cedric Benson, who both appear on this list, are former winners of the Doak Walker Award.
4. Thurman Thomas, Willowridge, 1984
One of the more versatile running backs in NFL history, Thomas rushed for 12,074 yards in his 13-year NFL career and also had an additional 4,458 yards receiving on 472 catches. Thomas earned all-pro honors six times and was the NFL MVP in 1991. He is also a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. In college, Thomas finished his career as the all-time leading rusher at Oklahoma State with 4,565 yards and 43 touchdowns. He was a Heisman Trophy candidate his senior year and a two-time All-American. In high school at Willowridge, Thomas rushed for 3,918 yards and 48 touchdowns.
3. Eric Dickerson, Sealy, 1978
Dickerson finished his 11-year NFL career as the league’s second all-time leading rusher with 13,259 yards (he currently ranks sixth). He still holds the single season rushing record of 2,105 yards, which he set during his second year in the league with the Los Angeles Rams. A member of the NFL Hall of Fame, Dickerson attended SMU, where he finished third in the Heisman voting his senior year. He broke Earl Campbell’s Southwest Conference career rushing records with 4,450 career yards and he tied Doak Walker’s school touchdown mark with 48 scores. In high school, Dickerson led Sealy to a 15-0 record and a state title. He ran for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the finals and finished his senior season with 2,642 yards and 37 touchdowns.
2. Earl Campbell, Tyler, 1974
The Tyler Rose put together a tremendous 10-year run of excellence, starting with his senior year at John Tyler High School in 1973 when he rushed for 2,036 yards and led his team to a 15-0 record and a state championship. He finished his high school career with 2,565 yards and went on to an outstanding career at the University of Texas. There, Campbell was All-American as a sophomore and a senior (he was injured much of his junior year) and was the Heisman Trophy winner in 1977 after leading the nation with 1,744 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. He finished his career at Texas with 4,443 career yards and 40 scores. Campbell was an immediate sensation in the NFL, winning Rookie of the Year honors and earning All-Pro status his first four seasons in the league, five overall. He was the Offensive Player of the Year in 1980 after rushing for 1,943 yards. Injuries took their toll on Campbell, however, and he played just eight seasons in the NFL. He finished with 9,407 yards rushing on 74 TDs. He is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
1. Kenneth Hall, Sugar Land, 1954
Hall had one of the legendary careers in high school football and as a result, his numbers are too hard to overlook. Hall had more rushing yards in one season (4,045 in 12 games in 1953 with 395 points scored) than Thomas, Dickerson, Campbell, Tomlinson, or Walker had in their careers. Fifty-five years after he finished playing high school football, Hall still holds the national career rushing record with 11,232 yards, which he set at Sugar Land High School near Houston from 1950 to 1953. He also scored 899 career points, which stood as the national record for over 25 years. Hall led Sugar Land to three Texas Class B regional titles. At Texas A&M under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Hall was moved to fullback and played linebacker on defense. The moves didn’t fit his style of play and he eventually quit the team. However Hall did play in the Canadian Football League and played on an NFL championship team with the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and an AFL championship team with the Houston Oilers in 1961. He holds two Oiler records for best kickoff return average and longest kick return. Since 1999, the award for the top high school player in the country has been named the Kenneth Hall Award.