Rushing into history...
(AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Kelly Jordan)
There weren’t enough players on defense to stop them. They scorched the turf on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, leaving behind tracks of a legacy that many probably can’t comprehend as being athletically possible.
The top running backs in high school history have racked up yards and touchdowns that look like year-end team statistics. However, these were solo acts of legendary status, taking the accepted 1000-yard achievement and multiplying it sometimes by four!
Ahead of the pack are these 14 backfield juggernauts, talented individuals with single-season performances that have reigned supreme in high school rushing history.
14. Joseph Sadler, Devine (Devine, Texas), 2011
Stats: 3,887 yards | 61 total touchdowns | 451 points
We’re handing the ball off to a talented Texas back, who averaged over a first down per carry in 2011, to start this list. Sadler’s senior year was an impressive ground display that included 278 yards rushing per game and a 10.1 per-carry average. He scored 58 touchdowns on the ground (plus another three receiving scores) and set a Texas top mark for scoring. (That’s a huge accomplishment when considering Texas high school football’s history.) A one-man scoring machine, Sadler added in 70 PATs as the team’s kicker.
13. Kellen Overstreet, Penney (Hamilton, Mo.), 2014
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Stats: 4,259 yards | 70 touchdowns | 426 points
Overstreet’s 2014 season left opposing defenses in a cloud of dust, averaging over 300 yards rushing per game. He scored 65 of his 70 touchdowns on the ground and achieved a four-TD game in 12 of the 14 matchups that year. His rushing total of 4,259 yards ranks fifth all-time.
12. Eric Melesio, Norte Vista (Riverside, Calif.), 2016
(TERRY PIERSON, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG)
Stats: 4,459 yards, 478 carries | 56 touchdowns
A true workhorse among the storied backs in California high school football history, Melesio carried the ball 50-plus times twice during his senior season in 2016—on the way to a record 478. The payoff for the effort was an incredible 4,459 yards (318 yards per game), which ranks as the fourth-highest total in the nation.
11. Tyler Ebell, Ventura (Ventura, Calif.), 2000
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Stats: 4,495 yards | 64 touchdowns | 388 points
The 5-foot-9 back known as “Mighty Mouse” torched the competition back in 2000—and in history—sprinting past Travis Henry’s (Florida) then-top rushing record of 4,087 yards. He rushed for 300-plus yards 10 times that season, including live performances of 360 yards or more. And Ebell didn’t just pick up chunks of yards; the eventual UCLA Bruin scored five touchdowns in seven games, and his 64 touchdowns total were a California record that lasted until 2017.
10. Michael Hart, Onondaga (Nedrow, N.Y.), 2003
(AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
Stats: 3,489 rushing yards | 67 touchdowns | 406 points
Mike Hart stands at a different level of running back legends in the high school ranks. This true highlight reel even became a scouting comparison—it’s not uncommon, especially in the New York area, to hear a talented back given a mark of “Mike Hart-like.” And that is quite a massive honor. Hart was unstoppable in high school (which continued at the University of Michigan). He had 67 touchdowns his senior year, adding to his four-year record total of 207. His unmatched (and uncontainable) skill set was evident on his spectacular runs: speed, elusiveness, and uncanny improvisational ability.
9. W.C. "Dixie" Roberts, Central Bulldogs (now Warren County HS, McMinnville, Tenn.), 1928
(USA TODAY Sports)
Stats: 3,690 yards rushing | 41 touchdowns
It’s one of those instances where it would have been cool if game day video (and YouTube) existed throughout high school football way back in the day. To watch even a few clips of W.C. “Dixie” Roberts’ 1928 rushing clinic certainly would be an entertaining spectacle—especially his 520-yard game. Roberts is said to be the first back to ever gain over 3,000 yards in a season, doing so and then some as the Bulldogs battled to a state title that season. His 41 touchdowns still rank third all-time in the state.
8. Johnathan Gray, Aledo (Aledo, Texas), 2011
(USA TODAY Sports)
Stats: 3,910 yards, 357 caries | 70 touchdowns | 420 points
Gray (pictured with Breanna Stewart) had a stellar senior year on and off the field—made evident when he was selected as the Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year. On the field, he ran over the opposing Texas competition, breaking Mike Hart’s then-national touchdown title with 205 after hitting pay-dirt 70 times that season. He averaged 240-plus yards rushing a game, leading the Bearcats to a state title (his third).
7. Travis Henry, Frostproof (Frostproof, Fla.), 1996
(David Mills, theledger.com)
Stats: 4,087 yards | 42 touchdowns
Central Florida was buzzing back in 1996 as Travis Henry rushed toward running back infamy (at least, as we’ll learn on this list, until a 2001 report). Henry, who many know as the Tennessee Volunteers back and eventual NFL runner, found himself under the national spotlight, topping the 4,000-yard mark while racking up 42 touchdowns. The talented back secured the nation’s top spot after gaining 328 yards in the state championship game.
6. Dominick Bragalone, South Williamsport (South Williamsport, Pa.), 2014
Stats: 4,704 yards, 316 carries | 67 touchdowns | 402 points
Although Braglone was from a small school, it didn’t diminish his talent or ambition—far from it. He would finish his senior year only 52 yards shy of the national rushing record, steamrolling defenses with a nearly 15-yard average per carry. He scored four TDs 11 times, and maybe most impressively, also had one of the best pieces of advice for youth athletes. As he told USA Today HSS back in 2014:
“You can’t really help where your family lives or what school you go to. The only thing you can do is work hard and play your best. If you’re one of the best at whatever level school you’re at, there’s not much you can complain about.”
5. T.A. McLendon, Albemarle (Albemarle, N.C.), 2001
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Stats: 3,001 yards | 71 touchdowns | 428 points
McLendon scored an eye-opening 71 touchdowns back in 2001—at the time a national record—as he helped lead the Bulldogs to a state title, the first of five in the decade. His seven-TD, 289-yard performance in that final game was an ultimate sendoff to a career that still sits atop much of North Carolina high school football statistical achievements. The 5-foot-10, 235-pound bruiser would go on to play for NC State, where he would be in the backfield while Philip Rivers was under center.
4. Kazmeir Allen, Tulare Union (Tulare, Calif.), 2017
(USA TODAY Sports)
Stats: 3,336 yards rushing, 255 carries | 72 touchdowns | 432 points
No one has scored more touchdowns in a season than Tulare Union’s Kazmeir Allen. His 2017 total of 72 is simply mesmerizing—it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in a day for that type of production! He had eight games where he scored five touchdowns and had hat tricks in another 13. And his talents weren’t an overused carrier who gained a few yards at a time—against the stout California competition, Allen rushed for over 13 yards a carry, topping the 3,300 mark for the season.
3. Ken Hall, Sugar Land (now-defunct, Sugar Land, Texas), 1953
(Photo: Fort Bend Heritage Foundation)
Stats: 4,045 yards rushing | 57 touchdowns | 395 points
You can’t have a high school list that pays homage to the great rushers without a spot for the Sugar Land Express. Ken Hall was record-breaking royalty back in the 1950s. Operating out of the single-wing formation, Hall tormented defenses with a run-pass attack that racked up personal stats that most teams would be proud to have in a year. He rushed for over 4,000 yards in ’53, which many had marked as the best of all time (more on that in a bit), and his 57 touchdowns were also tops in the game. Today, high school sports fans might recognize him from the Hall Trophy, which has gone to some of the nation’s best football talents.
2. Derrick Henry, Yulee (Yulee, Fla.), 2012
(AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Will Dickey)
Stats: 462 carries, 4,261 yards | 55 touchdowns | 336 points
Probably the most recognizable name on the list—especially in Tennessee Titans/Alabama Crimson Tide areas—Derrick Henry went from a really talented running to a WOW! DID YOU SEE THAT?! back in a matter of a few games during his senior year. Although Henry had not rushed for more than 3,000 yards in the previous years (an odd benchmark, but still.), he blew past that in 2012…and then some. He had eight games of 300-plus yards and another three games of 400-plus. His stat line that helped top Ken Hall’s 4,000-yard mark? A 57-carry, 485-yard bludgeoning.
1. John Giannantonio, Netcong (now-defunct, Netcong, N.J.), 1950
(Photo: Courtesy NJSIAA)
Stats: 4,756 yards rushing | 41 touchdowns | 246 points
A few reasons land the 5-foot-7 John Giannantonio at the No. 1 spot for single-season performances by a running back. As the stat line suggests, the first is that he was only 520 yards from rushing for three miles in 1950. The team went 8-0, and he scored nine touchdowns in three of the games. He rushed for 754 yards in one game, and averaged nearly 600 yards in each! He averaged 30-plus points a game, and his 4,756 yards are one of the most video-game-like stats in football history (any football!). But it’s the last two elements that seal the nod: No one really knew about this until 50 years after it happened, with many assuming that Hall had the record in 1953—National High School Record Book reported it in 2001. And finally, Giannantonio did all of this as a 137-pound sophomore.