Pratt, Whaley going small town to big time

This look at prospects by position in Central Texas takes a look at the running back class in 2009 and the state's top two backs headline a talented group. But Jeff Howe takes a look at who else will be lighting up Central Texas defenses this fall in addition to Chris Whaley and Dexter Pratt.

It has been quite some time since a small school running back from Central Texas made their mark on the college.

In fact only one, former Texas Tech star Tarean Henderson, made significant contributions at the next level after leading Gatesville to a Class 3A state championship.

All of that however is changing with the class of 2009 in Central Texas as a pair of 3A ball carriers from the Brazos Valley enter their senior seasons as two of the nation's best.

Topping the list is Madisonville's Chris Whaley, a 6-foot-3 218-pound bruiser that is part sledgehammer, part slasher, but all playmaker. Unfortunately for schools across the country this program changer is already off of the market after his early commitment to Texas.

Being from east Central Texas and with his size/speed combination and freaky athleticism for his size, Whaley has already drawn comparisons to former Palestine star, Oklahoma all-American, and Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson. A more fair comparison however might former NFL 2,000 yard rusher Jamal Lewis. Whaley, currently the nation's No. 6 rated running back and a four-star prospects, has the same body type as Lewis and while he can get tough yards between the tackles, he also has outstanding vision and is great at finding a seam and hitting hard. The future Longhorn also has deceptive speed (4.45) that allows him to pull away from defenders and once he gets past the second level, he is nearly impossible to bring down.

Another back that has similar ability to Whaley is Navasota's Dexter Pratt, who will take his talents across state lines to LSU in the fall of 2009. Pratt has solid size and in terms of body type and running style, he is pretty close to resembling former Heisman winner Eddie George. Pratt is a long 6-foot-2 and has some bulk at 220 pounds. The four star prospect, currently rated as the No. 10 running back in the nation, is a slasher who is very instinctive and is quicker than he is fast (4.5). He is a very physical runner and will not shy away from contact and his physical play has prompted some schools to consider moving him to linebacker.

Another top-flight Central Texas running back that has committed to the school of his choice is Austin Westlake speed demon Ryan Swope, who has given his verbal pledge to Texas A&M.

Swope played cornerback as a sophomore in Westlake's run to the 2006 Class 5A, Division I title game, but he moved to his natural position at running back as a junior gaining over 1,300 yards in 11 games. He also proved to be a valuable asset in the passing leading the Chaps in receiving with over 500 yards and seven scores. He is one of the fastest players in the state with legit 4.4 speed and he has outstanding lateral quickness and instincts that could land him back at defensive back, or in the slot as a receiver.

The best available back in Central Texas looks to be Waco Midway's John Hubert. After transferring from Waco High and having to sit out a year, Hubert burst onto the scene as a junior earning District MVP honors in District 16-4A. He doesn't have the great size of an every down runner (5-7, 180), but he defiantly has college caliber speed, quickness, and playmaking ability.

The Waco area has several quality running backs in the 2009 class, a group that also includes the Waco High duo of Bronshae' Keon Dugas and Charles Sillmon. La Vega's Chad Ward figures to get more touches this season with the departure of Kourtney Parr as he looks to take some of the pressure off 2010 star Chris Parr.

Moving down I-35 and west on Highway 190 into Killeen, Killeen I.S.D. has two big play backs in Killeen High's Marcus Tillman and Shoemaker's Dion Demers, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and came on strong towards the end of the season.

There are also some solid backs in and around the Austin area. Cedar Park's Dedrick McKnight will get an expanded role in the Timberwolves' offense as a senior after primarily being their change-of-pace back as a junior. In addition to being a strong runner, McKnight might also be the best receiving back in Central Texas as the District 14-5A coaches selected him as a first team all-District receiver in 2007.

Other running backs in Central Texas to keep an eye on this upcoming season are Austin LBJ's Omasha Brantley, Austin Crockett's Darrell Cantu-Harkless, Elgin's Derrick Falke, San Marcos' Aaron Canady, Taylor's Tristan Meyer, Bryan's Montreal Washington, and Teague's James Green.

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