The Year of the Running Back

The past couple of years, North Carolina has fielded a relatively weak crop of running backs. Yea, sure we've had Toney Baker and Andre Brown break rushing record after rushing record, but when's the last time the Tar Heel State has boosted 15 to 20 game breaking tailbacks? When's the last time three ‘backs had a legit argument for best in the state?

In 2004, we witnessed the emergence of three tailbacks that look to battle it out for supremacy in 2005 – Johnny White of Asheville, Josh Adams of Cary, and Norman Whitley of Richmond County.

After the graduation of quarterback Michael Byrd following the 2003 season, Asheville head coach Danny Wilkins was faced with the task of replacing the Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year, who totaled 1,741 all-purpose yards and 20 all-purpose touchdowns.

The only way Coach Wilkins could truly fill that void was with athletic tailback Crezdon Butler, who rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

That move opened up the door for Johnny White to step in at tailback and rush for 2,167 yards and 34 touchdowns on just 227 carries (9.55-average).

White, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound cannonball-like ‘back, is one of the fastest players in the state with pads on, but also possesses the compact frame to run over defenders. At's All-American Combine held in Durham, White ran the third fastest 40-yard dash time – 4.53 seconds on grass. He regularly runs in the 4.40-range.

Just like White, Norman Whitley had to wait for a shuffle of the starting lineup to receive his shot at stardom.

When Whitley arrived on Richmond County's varsity squad as a sophomore, Marcus Rush was a speedy scat back with seniority and a whole lot of ability. However, once Rush and a slew of other quality talent graduated, Whitley wasn't only counted on to start at tailback, but also carry Richmond on his back.

By Raiders standards, the 2004 season was a rebuilding year. Therefore, Whitley was counted on to handle the rushing, receiving, and returning duties. For his efforts, Whitley etched his name into the prestigious Raiders' history books by breaking five records.

Those records included all-purpose yards in a season (3,540), all-purpose touchdowns in a season (40), rushing yards in a season (2,666), rushing touchdowns in a season (33), and longest kickoff return (91 yards against Millbrook).

Whitley is your typical utility tailback that can do anything asked of him on the football field. To go along with soft hands, he owns great speed and agility (4.49-second 40-yard dash, 4.06-second 20-yard dash, and 32.9-inch vertical all tested at the Shrine Bowl Combine).

Josh Adams, on the other hand, had a breakout season as a sophomore, but few would know it.

After rushing for 1,486 yards and nine touchdowns, Adams tore cartilage in his knee ending his sophomore season. At the time Adams was leading the state in rushing, but was quickly buried in the statistics column by season's end.

In 2004 Adams came back with vengeance. Throughout the season Adams went toe-to-toe with five-star tailback Toney Baker, but eventually ended the season second in the state with 2,884 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Although a little light at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Adams is more of your typical tailback with great vision, patience, and acceleration.

Additionally, Adams, a four-star prospect, is more highly recruited than Whitley and White. Adams has loaded up with 12 division I-A scholarship offers despite suffering his second leg injury in the spring during a regional track meet.

Although White, Whitley and Adams will vie for the crown as top tailback in 2005, the talent doesn't stop there.

Five other ‘backs return after posting over 2,000 yards rushing in 2004 – seniors Michael Angram of East Henderson (2,287) and Joel McKoy of Raleigh Athens Drive (2,008), and juniors – yes juniors – Carter Sharpe of Fayetteville Smith (2,823), Tommy Henry of Maiden (2,366), and Quan Warley of Thomasville (2,005).

Also, Hertford County and Tarboro will field speedy utility style backs in LaMarcus Bond and Shaun Draughn, respectively.

Although they lack the glitz and glamour of their peers, Devon Moore of Cedar Ridge and Willie Harper of Asheville Reynolds are vital members to their squads. Both are guaranteed 1,000+ yard rushers and have the ability to break a game open at any moment with their speed.

Each of the aforementioned ‘backs will make their mark in some space or form this season, but collectively will label 2005 "the Year of the Running Back."

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