Teams may air it more on offense, but the running game still means something in high school football, particularly in the Tampa Bay area.
Take Berkeley Prep, Jesuit and Tampa Bay Tech. All three made state championship appearances last year with strong rushing attacks.
The position is important. And the players locally are dynamic. All of which can help several programs make title-contending runs.
Here is a breakdown of what to look for with running backs in the area this season.
Several high-profile running backs transferred in the offseason. Here are some that could have the biggest impact this season.
|Name||New school||Old school|
|Fred Adams||Zephyrhills||Zephyrhills Christian|
|Sean Cuono||Calvary Christian||St. Petersburg Catholic|
|Alex Cruz||Zephyrhills Christian||Wiregrass Ranch|
|Rod Gainey||Tampa Bay Tech||IMG|
|Ti’lan McGee||Clearwater||East Lake|
|Jordan Mouzon||Clearwater||Calvary Christian|
|Luke Yoder||East Lake||Palm Harbor University|
IMG exodus has impact locally
Two of the state’s premier running backs, Stacy Gage and Rod Gainey, left IMG this offseason to return to their Tampa roots.
Gage, rated the nation’s No. 2 back in the 2024 class, transferred to Wharton. Gainey, who already has 10 offers from major college programs, came back to Tampa Bay Tech, where he played as a freshman in 2020.
The juniors add some punch to the running games of their new schools, both of which have state title aspirations.
Better still, the teams are in the same district.
In fact, the former teammates will square off as rivals on Oct. 14 when Tampa Bay Tech hosts Wharton in a game that likely will decide the Class 3, District 4 champion in the Metro Division.
Big shoes to fill
There are a few teams that have to replace dynamic ballcarriers in their backfields. Find out how they are filling those voids.
Berkeley Prep: The Buccaneers made their first-ever state title game appearance last season thanks in large part to the 1-2 running punch of Xavier Townsend and Travis Bates.
Together, the two ran for a combined for a whopping 3,066 yards and 41 touchdowns on the ground.
Now, both are in college (Bates at Duke; Townsend at UCF).
Replacing that much production is a difficult task. Berkeley Prep will do it with a solid committee, led by Dallas Golden and Joseph Troupe.
Golden, who already has an offer from Notre Dame, can be used in a variety of ways, much like Townsend. The role of the power back will be filled by Troupe, who is the top returning back statistically (318 yards and seven touchdowns last season).
Countryside: The Cougars relied on the running of Jaden Griffin (1,498 yards, 18 touchdowns last season) to make the playoffs.
Griffin graduated, so Countryside will turn to several others to fill that role, most notably Marcus Coleman and Terrence Jackson.
Newsome: The Wolves are known for the running the ball. Their featured back the last three years was Jason Albritton, who had 3,927 yards and 42 touchdowns in his high school career.
Albritton is now at USF.
That means his backfield teammate, J.C. Roque, will take on a more prominent role.
Roque has run for a combined 1,288 yards and 42 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Zephyrhills: Last year the Bulldogs went 9-1 in the regular season and won a district title behind the running of Jaylin Thomas, who finished with 1,436 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Thomas has graduated, so the Bulldogs will turn to Fred Adams, a transfer from Zephyrhills Christian, as on their primary running backs.
Zephyrhills Christian: It is hard to replace Dontrevius Jackson.
After all, the electrifying back ran for 1,803 yards and 18 touchdowns last season while leading the Warriors to the region final.
This year, Zephyrhills Christian knows it will take a group effort to make up for the numbers Jackson produced as a senior. The two leading candidates are Andrew Felder and Alex Cruz, a transfer from Wiregrass Ranch.
The 2,000 club?
The last time a running back from the area gained more than 2,000 yards on the ground was Clearwater Central Catholic’s Jordan Niles in 2019.
Last year, two local backs, Jesuit’s Joquez Smith and Nature Coast’s Christian Cromer, each came within 50 yards of reaching that milestone.
Both have a chance to hit that total as seniors this year.
Three senior running backs, Jesuit’s Joquez Smith, Lakewood’s Montravious Lloyd and Sumner’s Keoni Denny, have already set their futures in motion by announcing their college commits.
Smith, who rushed for a bay-area best 1,976 yards for the state champion Tigers last season, decided on Temple.
Lloyd, who came on late season to help the Spartans reach the state semifinals, is going to Pittsburgh.
And Denny, a bruiser who the Stingrays win their first district title, will be heading to UNC Charlotte.
Pounding the rock in Pinellas
When it comes to offense, Pinellas County has always been ground-oriented.
The proof is in the numbers.
Last season, the county had four of the top six leading rushers in the area.
They were: East Lake’s Luke Yoder (at PHU last year), Clearwater Central Catholic’s Lenwood Sapp, Pinellas Park’s Isaiah Hampton and Gibbs’ Sammy Miller Jr.
Expect that trend to continue.
All return this season.
|Name||Rushing yards||Rushing touchdowns|
|Joquez Smith, Jesuit||1,976||29|
|Christian Cromer, Nature Coast||1,955||21|
|Luke Yoder, East Lake||1,602||13|
|Lenwood Sapp, CCC||1,587||11|
|Isaiah Hampton, Pinellas Park||1,301||9|
|Sammy Miller Jr., Gibbs||1,203||8|
|Kirby Vorhees, Steinbrenner||1,074||15|
|Anthony Carrie, Carrollwood Day||1,032||20|
|Rico Shoats, Riverview||938||3|
|Markese Norfleet, Northeast||839||9|
|Jaelin Sneed, East Bay||807||16|
|Nathan Carter, East Bay||795||3|
|Ti’lan McGee, Clearwater||792||7|