I was just ,thinking, over the past few days, about all of the very good running backs that I have watched in my 42 years of keeping stats for our local football teams. I am talking about backs from the schools that I kept stats for and not from our opponents and also just from when I started keeping stats back in 1974. Anyone from before that year does not qualify into my evaluation.
I am going to take a look at these guys and mention the ten that I feel have stood out as the best. I’ll not rank them but I will point out the player whom I feel was the best at the end of this column.
I kept stats for R.E. Lee from 1976-1991 and saw some very gifted runners. From 1974-77 Ronnie Paul was one of the best runners in our region. He gained 3,447 yards in his career and was effective as an inside runner as well as an outside threat. He was tough and talented.
Curtis Perry used speed and strength to make him an All-State performer. He was a Rebel from 1981-83 and rushed for 3,733 yards in his career. He finished as the second all-time rusher in Lee history, scored a Lee record 58 touchdowns in his career, and averaged 8.3 yards per carry in 1983.
Randy Marshall and Tim Perry made up a dream backfield for the Rebels from 1985-88. Marshall had a career total of 3,088 yards and Perry picked up 3,681 yards during his time at Lee. Marshall probably had a bit more speed, but both could run inside, with Perry being a real bruiser between the tackles. They led Lee to state championship game appearances in back-to-back seasons and both received All-State honors.
Tommy Odom was a quality running back for Lee from 1978-81. He finished his career with 2,365 rushing yards and used good speed and elusiveness to be one of the best in Lee annals.
Michael Hicks made his presence known as a Lee runner from 1989-91. He finished as Lee’s all-time leading rusher with 4,368 career yards and also holds the Rebel records for most yards in a season (2,413 in 1991) and in a game (327 vs. Calhoun in 1991). He had outstanding speed and a nose for the end zone, which is witnessed by his school-record six touchdowns against Greenville in 1991. He was also an All-State performer.
After starting the stat program at Upson-Lee, I have had the privilege to watch some outstanding runners for the Knights. Bruce Salter was a very talented runner for UL in 1992-93 and had 1,658 yards in his career. He would have piled up more yardage if not for a leg injury which sidelined him for a part of the 1992 season and reoccurred to end his 1993 year. He had outstanding speed and eyesight which made him a very dangerous runner.
Salter’s running mate was Tyrone Perry, who was a Knight from 1992-94. He still holds the UL record for rushing yards in a season with 1,553 in 1993 and is the Knights’ third leading career runner with 3,372 rushing yards. Perry also holds the UL record for TDs in a season with 20. He could hit the line quickly and had excellent speed when he got into the open field. He was an All-State performer.
Antroun McDaniel wore the Upson-Lee colors from 2000-03 and had a great career for the Knights. He is the second leading career rusher for the Knights with 3,397 yards and twice scored four touchdowns in a game during his career. He also had over 220 carries in both the 2002 and 2003 season. He has the longest TD run in Knights’ history with a 96-yard sprint against Harris County in 2003. McDaniel had the speed, strength, and desire to make him a quality back.
Alex Collier was a Knight from 1997-2000. He is the Knights all-time career leading rusher with 3,665 yards and his 42 career touchdowns are also atop the Knights record list. His 274-yard effort against Carver in 1999 is the top single-game mark for UL and his 26 points scored against Kendrick in 2000 tops the Upson-Lee records. Collier was a bullish inside runner who had surprising speed and agility when he got into the open areas.
OK, that’s my ten best. Remember that I did not keep stats for Upson High School except for 1973-75 so most of their runners were not eligible for my list. Sorry!
All right, do you want my #1 from this list? It’s not easy but considering everything that I have seen thru the years, I would have to rank Michael Hicks as the best overall runner that I have seen thru these many years as a stat keeper.
Agree? Don’t agree? That’s what makes it fun!
Next week I’ll look at the top quarterbacks.
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.