As soon as the words came out of Bentonville head coach Barry Lunney's mouth, the reporter's face must have showed surprise.
But it was a bold statement regarding Tigers' senior-to-be running back Courtney Haskell (5-11, 202), who transferred from talent-rich Warren at semester break to join the defending Class 7A state champs.
"I haven't coached any Division I running backs, but I have coached against a lot of them," Lunney said. "I can start with (Pine Bluff star Basil) Shabazz and (Fort Smith Northside's) Keniko Logan, Eric Mitchell at Pine Bluff.
"This guy is as good as any of them," Lunney added. "Basil Shabazz is the best athlete I have ever seen, but this guy right now is the second-best I have ever seen."
That's high praise for a young man, who would likely be right recruited right up there with Little Rock Christian's Michael Dyer as the top player in the state if not for injuries and the fact that he has been playing catch up with his academic issues.
He rushed for 961 yards on 131 carries at Warren – an average of 7.3 yards when he touched the ball – and his former head coach Bo Hembree called him possibly the best he has ever had.
"He is one special athlete," Lunney said. "in talking to Bo, he is everything he said and probably more."
"He has never fully made it through a year because he has had some injury issues, but I have been coaching a long time and I have never had one like this," Lunney said. "He is very special."
Adding Haskell to a backfield that already returns a 1,243-yard rusher in Shane Boedeker and junior quarterback Preston Gean, Bentonville's coaches have liked what they have seen in spring practice so far.
"In the first four days of practice, I think Courtney had been on the ground only two times," Lunney said. "He has great balance, explosiveness. He ran a 4.42 out here electronically...You just can't coach that. He has a vertical jump of over 30 inches and he is a 400-pound squat guy easily and probably close to 500 now and a 355 bench guy.
"He also has zero percent body fat," Lunney added. "Yesterday he made a couple of runs and all nine of my coaches were just looking at each other.
"He sees well, he accelerates through the cracks real well and if you try to arm tackle him, you are going to get your shoulder dislocated if you just reach you arm out," Lunney continued. "That what separates the really good backs – they have the physical tools, but also have the vision."
Haskell said he is just trying his best to fit in after moving from Warren to Bentonville along with his grandma to join his mom.
"It's great up here," Haskell said. "They have great facilities and my teammates have been very good to me. I am just getting used to everything. Practice is practice, but it does seem like a little higher tempo here."
Haskell said he is trying to improve his stamina and work on his strengths as well.
"I need to do a little bit more cardio," Haskell said. "I want to get faster and stronger and be able to stay healthy."
Lunney tries to temper his expectations about what Haskell might bring to his team, but it's tough for him.
"I am not ready to pronounce him King yet, but he is learning the system and he's loving those big offensive line," Lunney said. "He's also a great team player and is encouraging his teammates and loving the game."
Lunney said that Haskell will soon be taking the ACT for the first time and that there are schools – like Arkansas - who are asking about him and his status.
"There is a lot of interest in him, but he has had injuries the last two years and he has some catching up to do academically," Lunney said. "If he had already made his test score and got the credits he needs, we would not have been able to keep them out of here.
"As I told one college coach today, in my opinion – and I am just a high school coach and I am not telling you how to do your job – but if gets eligible and you don't recruit him, he is going to be playing against you some day," Lunney added. "I promise you that and you will regret it."
Bentonville will have its spring game Friday night at 6:30 p.m.
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